LGBTQ teens at increased risk of violence in relationships

March 19, 2020

Not all romantic relationships are healthy and some come with the danger of violence. A research letter looks at the increased risk of physical and sexual violence in romantic relationships that involve sexual minority adolescents.

It's a sad fact that not all romantic relationships are healthy and fulfilling, and that some involve physical or sexual violence. Unfortunately, such relationships often happen to teenagers. A new research letter in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that sexual minority adolescents could be at higher risk for violence in a relationship then their heterosexual peers.1

Investigators used pooled data from the 2015 and 2017 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In the survey, participants were asked to indicate their sex (female or male), sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual, or not sure), and if they had experienced 2 types of sexual violence (lifetime forced intercourse, past-year sexual assault by a romantic partner) or 3 types of physical violence (past-year physical violence committed by a romantic partner, past-year physical fights anywhere, or past-year physical fights at school). The 2017 survey also included a question that asked whether the adolescents had experienced past-year sexual assault committed by anyone.

There were 28,811 participants of which 87.1% reported heterosexual as the sexual orientation, 2.2% as gay or lesbian, 7.0% as bisexual, and 3.7% as not sure. Among the teenagers who were of sexual minority, 12% reported physical violence committed by a romantic partner, 27.6% were involved in a physical fight, and 11.1% engaged in a physical fight on school property. Additionally, 20.6% of sexual minority teenagers reported sexual assault; 18.0% reported forced intercourse; and 12.5% said they had been sexually assaulted by a romantic partner.

Even after adjusting for confounders, sexual minority adolescents still were consistently more likely than heterosexual adolescents to report physical and sexual violence in the past 12 months, including physical violence perpetrated by a romantic partner and sexual assault committed by anyone. Bisexual teenagers were found to have a particularly elevated risk for both sexual assault committed by anyone and physical violence from a romantic partner.

Girls who were sexual minority teenagers also were at an elevated risk of physical violence when compared with heterosexual female teenagers. This included an increased chance of engaging in a fight on school property and a physical fight anywhere. Sexual minority adolescent boys were at greater risk of sexual violence, including sexual assault and forced intercourse, than their heterosexual male peers.

Investigators said that the elevated risk of physical and sexual violence in sexual minority adolescents and the physical and emotional toll of this violence are a public health priority.

References:

1. Caputi TL, Shover CL, Watson RJ. Physical and sexual violence among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning adolescents. JAMA Pediatr. March 9, 2020. Epub ahead of print. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.6291