Gay youth reluctant to report cyberbullying

bully

Cyberbullying includes attacks such as electronic distribution of humiliating photos, dissemination of false or private information, or targeting victims in cruel online polls. Among the non-heterosexual respondents of a recent survey, 45 percent reported feeling depressed as a result of being cyberbullied, 38 percent felt embarrassed, and 28 percent felt anxious about attending school. (Courtesy: iStockphoto)

IOWA STATE—One out of two lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth have been victims of cyberbullying, according to a new survey.

“There’s a saying that we’ve now changed to read, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can kill,'” says Warren Blumenfeld, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Iowa State University.

“And especially at this age—pre-adolescence through adolescence—this is a time when peer influences are paramount in a young person’s life.

“If one is ostracized and attacked, that can have devastating consequences—not only physically, but on their emotional health for the rest of their lives.”

Blumenfeld says the bullying—which inflicts emotional harm in a stealth manner by working through Web sites, chat rooms, e-mail, cell phones, and instant messaging—causes psychological and emotional distress, at times producing thoughts of suicide to those who are repeatedly victimized.

In the online survey of 444 junior high, high school, and college students between the ages of 11 and 22—including 350 self-identified non-heterosexual subjects—54 percent of the LGBT and allied youth reported being victims of cyberbullying in the 30 days prior to the survey.

The study appears in the LGBT-themed issue of the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, being released March 15.

Cyberbullying includes attacks such as electronic distribution of humiliating photos, dissemination of false or private information, or targeting victims in cruel online polls.

Among the non-heterosexual respondents, 45 percent reported feeling depressed as a result of being cyberbullied, 38 percent felt embarrassed, and 28 percent felt anxious about attending school. More than a quarter (26 percent) had suicidal thoughts.

The results underscore the helplessness felt by victims of cyberbullying, Blumenfeld says.

Forty percent of the non-heterosexual respondents indicated that their parents wouldn’t believe them if they were being bullied online, while 55 percent reported that their parents couldn’t do anything to stop it. Fifty seven percent also indicated that they didn’t think a school official could do anything to stop it.

“They feared that there might be more retribution by ‘tattling,'” says Blumenfeld, who was bullied as a teen for being gay.

“One of the things we found is that the LGBT students really want to make a difference,” says Robyn Cooper, a research and evaluation scientist at Iowa State’s Research Institute for Studies in Education.

“They want their stories told. They want people to know what they’re going through, but they don’t want the repercussions of being bullied.”

One in four of the LGBT and allied students responded that they needed to learn how to deal with cyberbullying by themselves.

More than half feared telling their parents because they might restrict their use of technology, which Blumenfeld says is often the “lifeline to the outside world” for many young LGBT students who have been ostracized by their peers at school.

“One of the strategies coming out of this study—since respondents expect and want their peers to step in more—is that we should find ways on our campuses to empower young people to speak up and act as allies,” Blumenfeld says.

“In bullying circles, it’s empowering the bystander to become the upstander to help eliminate the problem.”

Iowa State University news: www.news.iastate.edu/

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5 Comments

  1. Lisa D. Jenkins

    Most teens do not feel comfortable speaking to their parents about bullying – fortunately for LGBT youth, if things become critical, they can reach out the The Trevor Project. They offer a 24hr suicide prevention hotline and a confidential online Q&A forum for those with questions surrounding sexual orientation
    and gender identity.
    http://www.thetrevorproject.org/home2.aspx

  2. Ceci Miller

    Thank you for making the point that, by becoming upstanders, peer bystanders can prevent teen suicides. Even when LGBT teens survive cyber-bullying, the cumulative effects of incremental social abuse can be devastating in adulthood. We’ll be spreading the word about this article and The Trevor Project on FB, Twitter, and other social bookmarking sites.

  3. maymay

    Forty percent of the non-heterosexual respondents indicated that their parents wouldn’t believe them if they were being bullied online, while 55 percent reported that their parents couldn’t do anything to stop it. Fifty seven percent also indicated that they didn’t think a school official could do anything to stop it.

    You know, that’s not at all a surprise, considering recent Republican Iowa State legislator’s attempts to remove sexual orientation from anti-harassment protections in public schools. I talked a bit about this legislation on Kink On Tap 29, and I think it’s despicable that with such glaring evidence of human sadness, some people in positions of power are actively making these young people’s lives more difficult rather than less.

  4. john turner

    most teens feel like there is no other person like them at all and they think if they don’t ware name brand cloths or hang out with the coolest people then they are a loser. some kids get lucky because there rich or their good a sport. well im a freshman on the football team and i have friends in stuff because i just started being my self, i used to be really depresst and worry about what cloths i wore and who i hung out with but that doesent really matter to me anymore just be your self. im not gay but i kinda know how they feel.

  5. Report Cyberbulling

    Its best to take matters into your own hands in times like these. The internet can be a valuable tool for people who want to fight back against bullies.

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