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Sexual Minority Youth and Dating Violence

When youth in one study were asked if they knew "where to find resources for GLBT youth experiencing dating violence," only 10% identified domestic violence or sexual assault services (Freedner et al., 2002). Many sexual assault programs struggle to reduce barriers for teens to access their services; in the case of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) youth, the barriers may be even more substantial. It's important to note that the term "teen dating violence," while commonly used, is more aptly named "adolescent relationship abuse," which includes sexual and reproductive coercion and sexual assault as well as physical and emotional abuse.

A new article, "There's So Much at Stake"-- Sexual Minority Youth Discuss Dating Violence describes the perceptions of young adults 18-24 who participated in focus groups. The authors identify four themes that emerged from participants' discussion of dating violence they had experienced:

  • Homophobia (societal and internalized) - teens whose dating patterns are outside of the norm are often teased or bullied, and therefore isolated; they are less likely to reach out for help because of the fear of being outed or the expectation of negative reactions from others; internalized homophobia may lead them to believe they are not worthy of being treated well.
  • Negotiating socially prescribed gender roles - teen dating is often hampered by traditional sex role expectations, which can contribute to intimate partner violence. LGBTQ youth have few role models for healthy nontraditional relationships, and the attempt to force their relationships into stereotyped models of dating can lead to conflict.
  • "Assumed female connection" -- the young women in this study stated that there seemed to be an assumption that because both partners were female, there should somehow be an automatic understanding between them that minimized the need for skillful communication. This assumption often proved false.
  • Other relationship issues - the participants identified all the common sources of relationship stress that any young couple may encounter, and added to those are stressors that may be intensified for LGBTQ youth, such as a lack of family or peer support or heightened jealousy of a bisexual partner.

Some important points for advocates working with LGBTQ youth are:

  • Educate yourself. Learn as much as possible about sexual orientation, gender expression, culture, homophobia, and sexism and be aware of your own attitudes and biases.
  • Do not make assumptions. Realize that a person's sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be known based on appearances alone and use inclusive, gender-neutral language in order to highlight this" (Healthy Teen Network).
  • Realize that teens may be abused by partners of any gender, despite their self-identification or sexual orientation. In one study, "almost half the lesbians reporting abuse had been abused by a male partner, and bisexual males and females were equally likely to report abuse by male partners as they were female partners" (Freedner et al., 2002).
  • Be aware of possible heightened concerns about confidentiality and outing.
  • Reach out to transgender teens, who may be particularly vulnerable to partner abuse because of the discrimination they face and the way that abusers use this oppression to control their partners (Break the Cycle).
  • Discuss healthy relationships and provide information about sexual and reproductive coercion, STI protection, and emergency contraception to ALL teen clients. Unintended pregnancy is more prevalent in abusive relationships, and it is a myth to think this does not affect LGBTQ teens. In fact, one in three teen fathers and one in eight teen mothers report having sexual partners of both sexes or partners of the same sex (Forrest & Saewyc, 2004). LGBTQ teens are also less likely to use condoms for STI protection (Blake et al., 2001).

References

Reviewed: January 19th, 2016