By Andrew M. Seaman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The percentage of U.S. teens who report being sexually harassed varies depending on the youths' sexual identities, according to a new study.
Researchers found that U.S. adolescents who identified as gay, bisexual or "questioning" were more likely to report being a victim of sexual harassment within the last year, compared to their heterosexual peers.
"We know that sexual minority youth tend to report higher rates of victimization across the board," lead author Kimberly Mitchell wrote in an email to Reuters Health.
"What was new and particularly interesting here is that even within the population of sexual minority youth, rates differ with bisexual girls reporting more than bisexual boys and lesbian/queer girls reporting more than gay/queer boys," Mitchell, of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center in Durham, added.
"So females in general are particularly vulnerable," she said.
The new report, published in Child Abuse and Neglect, is based on responses from the Teen Health and Technology survey that was filled out by 5,139 U.S. teens between August 2010 and January 2011.
Of those teens, 3,362 boys and girls identified as heterosexual, 62 boys and 471 girls identified as bisexual, 67 boys and 136 girls identified as questioning and 643 boys and 398 girls identified as gay, lesbian or queer.
"This is really one of the first studies examining the specific rates within sexual minority and gender identify groups... It is also one of the only large samples of transgender youth," Mitchell said.
Overall, 23 percent of heterosexual boys and 43 percent of heterosexual girls reported the least amount of sexual harassment, which included being on the receiving end of obscene or sexual comments and being asked to do something sexual.
Lesbian or queer girls reported the most with 72 percent reporting sexual harassment during the past year. That compared to 66 percent of gay or queer boys and bisexual girls reporting sexual harassment.
When looking at the teens' gender identities, Mitchell and her colleagues found that 81 percent of transgender youth reported sexual harassment. That compared to 69 percent of gender non-conforming teens reporting sexual harassment.
Transgender teens were also the most likely to experience some sort of distress from their sexual harassment experiences. That distress can affect life at school and with family and friends.
But those teens reporting high self esteems or a good social structure were the least likely to report sexual harassment.
Based on the survey's results, sexual harassment was most likely to take place in person, but also occurred online.
Mitchell said it's hard to know whether any of the sexual harassment carried over onto the Internet from in-person encounters without knowing more details.
"We know from our other research that some of the harassment that youth experience at school carries over online, whereas other incidents start and stay offline (still the most common scenario), and some start and remain only online (this tends to be the less common scenario)," she said.
In order to curb the amount of sexual harassment in this population, Mitchell said there could be programs that teach bystanders to intervene in encounters on the victims' behalf. It would also help to have teachers be openly supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens.
She added, programs that emphasize self-esteem building could be "particularly valuable in both reducing the likelihood of victimization and lessen the impact when it occurs."
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1aIfD1l Child Abuse and Neglect, online October 19, 2013.
(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous character from headline.)