A news study has found that lesbian, gay or bisexual young people are about twice as likely to be bullied throughout high school as their heterosexual peers, but that, on average, bullying declines significantly as they get older.
The study, by Brunel University and the University of Illinois and published in the March 2013 edition of Pediatrics (4 February), was conducted using data from the DfE’s LSYPE survey. 8,700 adolescents and young people in England were followed over a seven-year period to examine how rates of bullying change as they grow older, and what effect bullying had on their emotional distress.
Overall, 187 young people who identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) tended to experience higher rates of bullying, however on average bullying of LGB youth declined significantly as they left high school. 57 percent of lesbian or bisexual girls reported being bullied at age 13 or 14, compared to 6 percent at age 20 or 21. Among boys, the bullying declined from 52 percent to 9 percent over the same time period.
However, compared to heterosexual peers, LGB boys and girls were about twice as likely to be bullied throughout high school. After high school, lesbian or bisexual girls were no more likely to be bullied than heterosexual girls; gay or bisexual boys’ likelihood of being bullied actually increased after high school compared to heterosexual boys.
The study authors found that LGB youth demonstrated significantly higher levels of emotional distress than their heterosexual-identified peers - only some of which can be attributed to bullying.
Professor Ian Rivers from Brunel University, co-author of the study, said: “While there is a decline in bullying with age which is to be welcomed for both heterosexual and LGB youth, the findings suggest the answer to 'does it get better?' is much more nuanced and depends on whether one looks at absolute or relative levels of victimisation and the interplay among age, gender and sexual identity.
“For those in schools and colleges, the data suggests that bullying is much less likely to happen after 16 years of age when education becomes selective, however it does persist for a small group of young LGBs and we must never forget this. It seems likely that the proposed rise in the school leaving age from 16 to 18 years of age will have an impact upon rates of bullying, and makes it all the more important that we continue to tackle this form of prejudice-based bullying in all our schools and colleges”.
'Developmental Trends in Peer Victimization and Emotional Distress in LGB and Heterosexual Youth' is published in the March edition of Pediatrics.
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