Peer Victimization and Dating Violence Among LGBTQ Youth

Published date01 April 2018
AuthorTyler Hatchel,Gabriel J. Merrin,Dorothy L. Espelage
Date01 April 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Peer Victimization and Dating
Violence Among LGBTQ Youth:
The Impact of School Violence
and Crime on Mental
Health Outcomes
Dorothy L. Espelage
, Gabriel J. Merrin
, and Tyler Hatchel
This study examined the moderating role of school violence and peer victimization on the associ-
ation between sexual orientation and mental health. The sample consisted of 11,794 high school
students (M
¼16, SD ¼1.23; female assigned at birth ¼51%; 1.8% identified as transgender)
across 23 schools. Participants completed a self-report survey that assessed sexual orientation,
ethnicity, gender identity, victimization experiences (e.g., peer and dating), perceptions of school
violence and crime, as well as anxiety and suicidality. Multilevel analyses indicated that lesbian, gay,
bisexual, questioning, and transgender (LGBTQ) individuals with lower rates of victimization had
significantly lower rates of suicidality compared to LGBTQ individuals with higher rates of victi-
mization. LGBTQ individuals in schools with high student perceptions of school violence and crime
had higher suicidality than their non-LGBTQ counterparts. LGBTQ youth in schools with lower
school violence and crime levels had lower rates of suicidality than their non-LGBTQ counterparts.
Interventions need to consider multiple forms of victimization and school environment as potential
risk and protective factors for LGBTQ youth.
victimization, teen dating violence, school violence and crime, sexual minority youth, LGBTQ youth
Peer victimization, bullying, and other forms of youth violence are common in U.S. schools (Robers,
Zhang, Morgan, & Musu-Gillette, 2015). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, and transgender youth
(LGBTQ) often experience elevated levels of peer victimization when compared to their non-
LGBTQ peers (D’Augelli et al., 2005; Eisenberg & Resnick, 2006; Espelage, Aragon, Birkett, &
Koenig, 2008; Robinson & Espelage, 2012). According to the 2013 National School Climate
Survey, including a nationally representative sample of 8,854 students in Grades 6–12 from over
Department of Educational Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Champaign, IL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Dorothy L. Espelage, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Champaign,
IL 61820, USA.
Youth Violence and JuvenileJustice
2018, Vol. 16(2) 156-173
ªThe Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1541204016680408
3,200 school districts across the United State s, 74%of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and tra nsgender
(LGBT) youth reported being verbally harassed in the past year (Kosciw, Greytak, Palmer, &
Boesen, 2014). Furthermore, they also found that 36%reported being physically harassed and
16%were physically assaulted. All of these forms of victimization were perceived to be related
to the victim’s sexual orientation or gender expression. With respect to other forms of aggression,
results from the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual
(LGB) youth were significantly more likely (i.e., 35%vs. 8%) than their heterosexual counterparts to
experience teen dating violence (TDV; Massachusetts Department of Education, 2006). From
another nationally representative sample, Halpern, Young, Waller, Martin, and Kupper (2004) found
that 25%of adolescents in same-sex dating relationships reported some form of relationship abuse.
Likewise, Dank, Lachman, Zweig, and Yahner (2014) found that transgender youth reported higher
rates of TDV victimization when compared to nontransgender youth. There is substantial empirical
evidence illustrating the prevalence of victimization among LGBTQ youth, and these experiences
have concerning consequences.
The pathways linking sexual orientation/gender expression and mental health issues are poten-
tially shaped by various forms of victimization. Many studies have found that LGBTQ youth are at a
significant higher risk for suicidal ideation and behavior (Eisenberg & Resnick, 2006; Liu &
Mustanski, 2012; Marshal et al., 2011; Ybarra, Mitchell, Kosciw, & Korchmaros, 2015). In a
representative sample of 1,988 high school students, Bontempo and D’Augelli (2002) found that
LGB youth who reported higher levels of victimization also reported higher levels of suicidality
when compared to their non-LGB peers. Similarly, Robinson and Espelage (2012) completed a
cross-sectional study with 11,337 students in seventh to ninth grade (588 of whom identified as
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning [LGBQ]) and found that peer victimization was associated
with greater suicidality and poor academic outcomes among LGBQ youth. However, fewer studies
have examined the extent to which TDV contribute to mental health issues. This is an important
issue because the combination of multiple victimization experiences may prove especially deleter-
ious. In order to address the insufficient scholarship in this area, this article focuses on TDV and peer
victimization as predictors of mental health issues (i.e., anxiety, suicidality) among LGBTQ and
their non-LGBTQ peers.
Minority Stress and LGBTQ Mental Health
The seminal minority stress model has been used to understand why LGBTQ individuals present
with higher rates of adverse outcomes (Meyer, 2003), like an increased prevalence of suicidality
(Meyer, Frost, & Neshad, 2014). Minority stress has been conceptualized as strain arising from the
social position of LGBTQ individuals as a stigmatized, disadvantaged, and oppressed group in
society (Meyer et al., 2014). Meyer (2003) proposed that the health disparities (e.g., anxiety,
depression, and suicidality) between LGBTQ and their non-LGBTQ peers might be explained by
stressors prompted by a homophobic and stigmatizing culture. Also, the disadvantaged social posi-
tion of LGBTQ individuals exposes them to particular forms of stress (i.e., victimization and
bullying) in addition to fewer resources for coping (i.e., social support; Meyer, Schwartz, & Frost,
2008). The combination of stigma-related s tressors with typical daily stressors offe rs a helpful
framework that explains the health disparities ever-present among LGBTQ youth.
LGBTQ Youth and TDV
Most of the literature on minority stress and victimization among LGBTQ youth has focused on
bullying and peer victimization specific to their identity (i.e., homophobic teasing). However,
scholars have started to expand their conceptualization of victimization by examining TDV among
Espelage et al. 157

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