Abstract: Teachers As a Buffer Against Violent Victimization and Early Sexual Initiation for Sexual Minority Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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452P Teachers As a Buffer Against Violent Victimization and Early Sexual Initiation for Sexual Minority Youth

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Jun Sung Hong, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, MI
Cortney VanHook, MSW, MPH, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, PA
Alberto Valido, Doctoral Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Hyeouk Chris Hahm, PhD, Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Dorothy Espelage, PhD, Professor, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Dexter Voisin, Dean & Professor, University of Toronto, ON, Canada

Adolescents identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender show a significantly higher risk of early sexual initiation than heterosexual youth. According to the minority stress theory, health disparities among gay, lesbian, and bisexuals, such as a higher rate of early sexual initiation can be explained by stressors stemming from a hostile, homophobic environment, resulting in greater exposure to violence. Furthermore, individuals who were consistently exposed to violence initiate sexual intercourse at an early age because of high levels of abuse-related emotional distress. However, supportive adults, such as teachers can play a critical role in protecting adolescents against victimization and negative outcomes. Guided by the minority stress theory, the current study sought to explore how exposure to violence (i.e., peer and neighborhood) might correlate with early sexual initiation among a sample of heterosexual and non-heterosexual African American adolescents in Chicago Southside. We also explored whether caring teachers would moderate the association between exposure to violence and early sexual initiation.


The cross-sectional study used convenience sampling of 580 African American youths in Chicago’s Southside: 475 heterosexuals, and 105 sexual minorities (25 gays/lesbians, 59 bisexuals, 7 pansexuals, and 14 others). The dependent variable is the age of sexual initiation. Independent variables are bullying victimization, exposure to neighborhood violence, exposure to peer violence, and caring teachers. Covariates include age, biological sex, and receiving government assistance. Descriptive statistics were computed by heterosexual versus non-heterosexual groups, and an independent sample t-test was used. For the first set of models, generalized linear modeling was used to estimate the associations among the variables. The second set of models included interaction terms between caring teachers and bullying victimization, exposure to peer violence, and exposure to neighborhood violence.


Major results indicated a positive association between exposure to neighborhood and peer violence and early sexual initiation for heterosexual youth but not those who identified as non-heterosexual. In addition, caring teaching buffered the association between exposure to peer violence and age of sexual initiation among non-heterosexual youth only.


Screening for violence exposure represents the first step to preventing sexual risk behavior in youth. Interventions that are cognitively and developmentally appropriate for adolescents are necessary. Interventions that engage youth as part of a group, parent-teen dyadic, and family interventions all have proven to be efficacious. Interventions that promote increases in awareness of risk, promote sexual health communication skills, and promote positive peer norms are recommended. Adolescents living in disadvantaged communities experience an absence of protective factors to prevent risky sexual behavior. Early sexual debut presents a risk for multiple forms of victimization. Compared to heterosexual youth, non-heterosexual youth in communities that are not affirmative to their identity are vulnerable to early sexual debut and therefore increased risk of victimization. Supportive teachers represent a protective factor for non-heterosexual youth to access in an otherwise non-affirmative or queer-phobic environment. While intentional school-wide curriculum or programs that support non-heterosexual students are recommended, the occurrence of everyday affirmative interactions between vulnerable students and teachers can go a long way in protecting non-heterosexual youth.