The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Individual, Family, and Peer-Level Risk and Protective Factors to Bullying Victimization Among a Community-Based Sample of Sexual Minority Youths

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 5:30 PM
Nautilus 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Paul Sterzing, MSSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Wendy Auslander, PhD, Barbara A Bailey Professor of Social Work, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Sexual minority youths (SMY) experience substantially higher rates of bullying victimization and mental health problems compared to heterosexual peers. The general adolescent bullying literature has identified important individual, family, and peer-level risk and protective factors to bullying victimization that remain largely unexplored with SMY (child abuse, mental health problems, and peer-level social support). This is an important research gap, because SMY also report more physical and sexual child abuse than their heterosexual counterparts. Utilizing a community-based sample of SMY, this presentation will address the following research questions: (1) What are the frequencies of bullying victimization by type (verbal, relational, electronic, and physical) within the last school year, (2) What are the associations between four types of bullying victimization and individual (demographics, gender-role nonconformity, psychological distress, and sexuality disclosure), family (emotional, physical, and sexual abuse), and peer-level (friend and classmate support) risk and protective factors, (3) Do mental health problems mediate the relationship between child abuse and bullying victimization, and (4) Does peer-level social support moderate this mediated relationship?

METHODS: The study utilized a risk and resiliency theoretical framework and a cross-sectional, quantitative design. Structured, face-to-face interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 125 SMY. The participants were recruited from two community-based organizations located in the Midwest. Eligibility requirements were 15-19 years old, self-identification as non-heterosexual, and currently not living in foster care. The study utilized several preexisting measures: Swearer Bullying Survey, Brief Symptom Inventory, Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, and Child and Adolescent Social Support Scale. Gender-role nonconformity and sexuality disclosure were measured by adapting items used previously in studies with SMY.

RESULTS: The majority of SMY reported being bullied in their lifetime (93.6%) and within the last school year (75.2%). Verbal bullying victimization was the most frequent type with 31.2% reporting weekly to daily experiences. Significant bivariate relationships were found between (a) child abuse and bullying victimization and (b) psychological distress and bullying victimization. Higher levels of child abuse and psychological distress were associated with higher frequencies of multiple types of bullying victimization. Gender-role nonconformity and sexuality disclosure were not significantly associated with bullying victimization. Psychological distress was found to fully mediate the relationship between child abuse and bullying victimization. This mediated relationship was conditioned upon the level of friend support. This conditional indirect effect of child abuse on bullying victimization decreased as SMY reported higher levels of friend support. Methodological limitations of the study included a non-causal research design, self-report versus teacher and peer measures of bullying victimization, and possible sample bias due to community-based recruitment.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: These findings contribute to the literature by identifying individual, family, and peer-level risk and protective factors to bullying victimization for SMY. Next steps include looking more broadly at other forms of family and peer-level violence (witnessing domestic violence, sibling aggression, neighborhood bullying) as risk factors to revictimization at school. Anti-bullying interventions need to address the potential mental healthcare needs of bullied SMY, while also implementing peer mentor programs to increase friend and classmate support.