Gay, lesbian and bisexual high school students are far more likely than their classmates to be raped or assaulted in a dating situation, according to the first national survey of its kind.
The research also found gay teens were far more likely to have attempted suicide, taken illegal drugs and engaged in other risky behaviors.
The finding echoes results of smaller surveys and findings from advocacy groups, but it is the first nationally-representative government survey to look at the issues.
“I found the numbers heartbreaking,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes a division that administers this school health survey every two years, told The New York Times.
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For years, advocacy groups have been saying gay and lesbian kids are more often bullied, ostracized and at high risk for many other problems. But earlier research by the government was limited to a small number of states and cities. The new survey includes students in rural areas and other parts of the U.S.
“This is the first time we can say that nationwide these are consistent challenges faced by lesbian, gay and bi- youth,” said David W. Bond of The Trevor Project, a national suicide-prevention organization focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.
Among the findings:
▪ Nearly 1 in 5 of the gay, lesbian and bisexual students said they’d been raped at some point in their lives, compared to 1 in 20 heterosexual students.
▪ Nearly 1 in 5 who had gone out with someone in the past year said their date had hit them, slammed them against a wall, or committed some other form of physical violence. That was more than twice what straight kids reported.
▪ About 1 in 3 said they had been bullied at school, while 1 in 5 straight kids had.
▪ More than 1 in 10 said they’d missed school the past month because of safety concerns. Less than 1 in 20 heterosexual kids reported that.
▪ More than 1 in 4 said they has attempted suicide in the previous 12 months. In contrast, about 1 in 16 straight kids reported recent suicide attempts.
The report does not delve into why these students are at such risk for so many types of harm, The New York Times reported.
Dr. Debra Houry, an emergency medicine physician who directs the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said the numbers argue for more comprehensive intervention and prevention programs, The New York Times reported. She praised programs like Green Dot, which train students in how to support a victim of bullying or a physical altercation. Other programs, she said, teach coping skills to vulnerable students. As the data suggest, she said, these students need better access to mental health care, as well as support from families, schools and communities.
Shontay Richardson says the survey reflects her experience in high school. “There’s of course the physical bullying, but also the emotional bullying that takes place,” she said.
Now 24 and a graduate student at Purchase College in suburban New York, she says she was lesbian but tried to hide it from her classmates. Still, she was seen as different. She was ostracized by her classmates and sexually assaulted by a boy she knew, she said.
The research results are based on responses from about 15,600 students to an anonymous survey conducted last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC released the report Thursday.
Of the survey participants, about 2 percent said they were gay or lesbian, 6 percent said they were bisexual and 3 percent said they weren’t sure of their sexual identity.
That suggests that of the 16 million students who attended public and private high schools last year, roughly 321,000 were gay or lesbian and 964,000 were bisexual, CDC officials said.