Abstract: Family-Level Factors Associated with Sexual Victimization Among Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Family-Level Factors Associated with Sexual Victimization Among Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Adrian J. Ballard, MSW, PhD Student and Graduate Student Research Assistant, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Rachel Gartner, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Paul Sterzing, PhD, Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose

Sexual and gender minority adolescents (SGMA) experience sexual violence at higher rates than heterosexual, cisgender adolescents. Sexual victimization (SV) is associated with serious psychological, social, and physical difficulties. SV research has commonly considered family characteristics among potential risk factors, but family attitudes about sexuality and gender have not been adequately examined. To fill this important gap, the current study aimed to examine associations between: (1) SGMA demographic characteristics and SV; (2) family homo-/trans-negativity and SV; and (3) parents’ religion’s acceptance of sexual and gender minorities (SGM) and SV. Understanding the impact of family-level factors on rates of SV can help social workers identify opportunities for primary SV prevention.


This study analyzed secondary data from a cross-sectional survey of 1,177 SGMA, aged 14-19 (M=16.37, SD=1.18), from across the US. A measure of family-level microaggressions toward SGM served as an indicator of family homo-/trans-negativity (HTN). Mother’s and father’s religious acceptance (RA) scores were based on a 4-point Likert-type scale rating their religion’s acceptance of SGM. Importance of religion (IR) to mother and father was also gathered on a 4-point scale. SV experiences included one or more types of lifetime SV, including: (1) sexual touching by a known adult, (2) unknown adult, and/or (3) other minor, and/or (4) attempted or completed forced sex (oral or penetrative). Logistic regression was used to compare odds of having experienced SV by gender identity, sexual orientation, and racial groups. Controlling for these demographics, logistic regression was used to identify differences in the adjusted odds of lifetime SV based on family HTN. Separate logistic regression models examined the adjusted odds of lifetime SV based on mother’s RA and father’s RA when controlling for demographics and IR.


Fifty-nine percent of SGMA reported experiencing at least one type of SV. Odds of lifetime SV did not differ significantly between sexual orientation or racial groups. Statistically significant differences were found for cisgender females, who were 57% more likely than cisgender males to experience SV. Transgender/nonbinary individuals assigned female at birth (T/N-AFAB) were over 2.5 times more likely to experience SV than cisgender males.

Higher family HTN was associated with greater adjusted odds of lifetime SV (AOR=1.05, p<.001), when controlling for demographics. An increase in mother’s RA score was associated with decreased odds of lifetime SV (AOR=0.77, p<.001) when controlling for demographics and mother’s IR. No relationship was noted between father’s RA score and lifetime SV.

Conclusions and Implications

These findings indicate that SGMA growing up in families with SGM-negative attitudes may be at heightened risk for sexual victimization. Conversely, a mother whose religion is perceived to be more SGM-accepting appears to have a potentially protective effect. These findings suggest that family-level attitudes toward sexuality and gender identity are potentially modifiable factors to consider in social work research on sexual victimization risk for SGMA. Doing so may inform social change efforts to (1) reduce SGM-negative attitudes and microagressive behaviors in families, and (2) mobilize the protective impact of mothers’ SGM-affirming religious values.