The prevalence of cyber-bullying and its psychological impact on non-heterosexual youth has been revealed in a new American study.
According to research carried out at Iowa State University, one out of every two lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender (LGBT) and allied youths are regular victims of "cyber-bullying," which leads to psychological and emotional distress to victims even sparking off thoughts of suicide in some.
The study will appear in this month's special LGBT-themed issue of the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy.
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 cyber-bullying in the 30 days prior to the survey. Cyber-bullying 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 said they felt depressed as a result of being cyber-bullied, 38 percent felt embarrassed, and 28 percent felt anxious about attending school. Twenty six percent reported having suicidal thoughts.
Lead author Warren Blumenfeld, an Iowa State assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, said: "There's a saying that we've now changed to read, 'Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can kill.'
"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."
Forty percent of the non-heterosexual subjects indicated that their parents wouldn't believe them if they said 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,'" stated 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," said co-author Robyn Cooper, a research and evaluation scientist at ISU's Research Institute for Studies in Education (RISE).
Copper, who authored her doctoral dissertation on minority stress and the well-being of sexual minority college students, added: "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. So being able to respond to this survey was very helpful."
One-fourth of the LGBT and allied students said they needed to learn how to deal with cyber-bullying by themselves. More than 50 percent also feared telling their parents about the cyber-bullying because they might restrict their use of technology, which according to Blumenfeld is often the "lifeline to the outside world" for many young LGBT students who have been ostracized by their peers at school.
The ISU study also spells out ways to check cyber-bullying.
Blumenfeld said: "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.
"In bullying circles, it's empowering the bystander to become the up-stander to help eliminate the problem."