Prospective associations among relationship abuse, sexual harassment and bullying in a community sample of sexual minority and exclusively heterosexual youth.J Adolesc. 2020 08; 83:52-61.JA
Sexual minority youth (SMY) are at significantly greater risk for experiencing adolescent relationship abuse (ARA) than exclusively heterosexual youth, yet little is known about the factors that elevate their risks for such abuse. Peer victimization (i.e., bullying, sexual harassment) has been associated with ARA among heterosexual youth. SMY experience higher rates of peer victimization than heterosexual youth, suggesting that it may be a risk factor for ARA among these youth. Using longitudinal data from a community sample of adolescents recruited from the northeastern US, we examined whether sexual identity was associated prospectively with ARA, and whether that relationship would be indirect, and mediated via bullying and sexual harassment at a 12-month follow-up. We expected to find higher rates of peer victimization and ARA among SMY than heterosexual youth, and we expected that sexual harassment and bullying would predict subsequent relationship abuse.
Adolescents (N = 800; 58% female; 81% European-American; 19% SMY) between 13 and 15 years (M = 14.45, SD = 0.85) completed a web survey at baseline, 6-months and 12-months.
Consistent with prior studies, SMY reported higher rates of bullying, sexual harassment, and relationship abuse than heterosexual youth. SMY who reported sexual harassment at baseline were more likely to report relationship abuse over time. Contrary to our expectations, however, bully victimization did not predict subsequent relationship abuse.
Sexual harassment can be particularly harmful for SMY because it targets gender and sexual identity at a formative developmental period and puts youth at risk for relationship abuse.