from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Press Release February 20, 2012 Study by Harvard School of Public Health & funded by National Institutes of Health Published in Pediatrics
One in ten children whose choices and activities are atypical of those choices by their biological sex are under increased risk of being physically, psychologically and sexually abused.
Lead author of the study, Andrea Roberts, says, “The abuse we examined was mostly perpetrated by parents or other adults in the home. Parents need to be aware that discrimination against gender nonconformity affects one in ten kids, affects kids at a very young age, and has lasting impacts on health.”
Specifically, these abused children are at high risk of suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by early adulthood. PTSD involves risky behavior such as engaging in unprotected sex. It also expresses itself in physical symptoms such as cardiovascular problems and chronic pain.
Harvard researchers analyzed data gathered from nearly 9,000 young adults (average age 23) who’d enrolled in the longitudinal Growing Up Today study in 1996. In 2007, participants reported memories of childhood experiences concerning favorite toys and stories, roles they took in play, media persons they imitated or admired, and their feelings of femininity and masculinity.
They were also asked to recall incidents of physical, emotional or sexual abuse and were screened for PTSD.
Men ranked in the top 10th percentile of childhood gender nonconformity reported a higher prevalence of sexual and physical abuse before age 11 and a higher incidence of psychological abuse between ages 11 and 17, compared with those below the median of nonconformity.
Women in the 10th percentile reported a higher prevalence of all forms of abuse as children, compared with those below the median of nonconformity.
The incidence of PTSD was almost twice as high among young adults who were gender nonconforming before age 11 than among those who were conforming.
The study also revealed that 85% of the nonconforming children were heterosexual in adulthood.
Roberts observed, “Our findings suggest that most of the intolerance toward gender nonconformity in children is targeted toward heterosexuals.”
The results of the study suggest more research is needed to understand why gender nonconforming children experience greater risk of abuse and to develop interventions to prevent abuse.
Researchers recommend that pediatricians and school health providers consider abuse screening for this young, vulnerable population.
My Take on the children’s gender nonconformity: Up to age 8, I lived in Cleveland on a street where the only other girl and her family had such filthy mouths that I wasn’t allowed to play with her. (But I did roller skate past her house often and very slowly—fascinating when their windows were open! )
So my playmates were all boys; our games were all boy games.
A couple blocks away, there was a dump with railroad tracks running through it where we sneaked around in the weeds and spied on the hobos camped below.
Other times we played Commandoes.
Once we tried an experiment with something or other to make a rocket and set a garage on fire.
When I was 11 or 12, my father added two rooms to our home in independence and let me help. He taught me to use saws and hammers and a punch to countersink nail heads in woodwork and the oak floors.
He even let me put sand and cement and water in the electric cement mixer and turn the machine on.
My point is this: Let our children grow to become their own unique selves.
Haven’t we seen enough teen and young adult suicides because of gender-nonconformity and sexual-preference bullying?
A grateful, posthumous Thank You to my parents, Steve and Sabina!