Children in the U.S. whose activity choices, interests, and pretend play before age 11 fall outside those typically expressed by their biological sex face increased risk of being physically, psychologically, and sexually abused, and of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by early adulthood, according to a new study led by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). It is the first study to use a population-based sample to look at gender nonconformity as a risk factor for abuse.The study was published online Feb. 20 and will appear in the March 2012 print issue of Pediatrics.Parents need to be aware that discrimination against gender nonconformity affects one in 10 kids, affects kids at a very young age, and has lasting impacts on health. — Andrea Roberts“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 10 kids, affects kids at a very young age, and has lasting impacts on health,” said lead author Andrea Roberts, a research associate in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH.PTSD has been linked to risky behavior such as engaging in unprotected sex, and also to physical symptoms such as cardiovascular problems and chronic pain.The researchers, led by Roberts and senior author S. Bryn Austin, associate professor in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH, and in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston, examined questionnaire data gathered from nearly 9,000 young adults (average age 23) who enrolled in the longitudinal Growing Up Today study in 1996. Respondents were asked in 2007 to recall their childhood experiences, including favorite toys and games, roles they took while playing, media characters they imitated or admired, and feelings of femininity and masculinity. They also were asked about physical, sexual, or emotional abuse they experienced and were screened for PTSD.Men who ranked in the top 10th percentile of childhood gender-nonconformity reported a higher prevalence of sexual and physical abuse before age 11 and psychological abuse between ages 11 and 17 compared with those below the median of nonconformity. Women in the top 10th percent reported a higher prevalence of all forms of abuse as children compared with those below the median of nonconformity. Rates of PTSD were almost twice as high among young adults who were gender nonconforming in childhood than among those who were not.The researchers also found that most children who were gender nonconforming were heterosexual in adulthood (85 percent), a finding reported for the first time in this study. “Our findings suggest that most of the intolerance toward gender nonconformity in children is targeted toward heterosexuals,” said Roberts.More research is needed to understand why gender nonconforming kids experience greater risk of abuse, and to develop interventions to prevent abuse, the researchers said. They recommend that pediatricians and school health providers consider abuse screening for this vulnerable population.Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health.
The members of Campus Life Council discussed on-campus safety at its meeting Friday afternoon. While crime numbers are not high or increasing, student body president Brett Rocheleau said students are still often afraid to walk around campus alone at night. “We should try to minimize that fear,” Rocheleau said. Multiple campus resources are aimed at keeping the grounds safe and comfortable, he said, but the student body does not have a widespread awareness of their presence. “Whatever we do or whatever we have, it’s publicizing it [that is the issue],” Howard rector Margaret Morgan said. She said students need to know Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), the Quad Squad and Safewalk protect the campus. Rector Maria Hinton of Cavanaugh said the Quad Squad consists of several officers who are assigned to monitor the various quads. “They walk constantly, all night long,” she said. “Their shifts run from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and they stop in the halls and check their basements.” Night monitors were also recently reinstated in all women’s halls this year. Morgan said these officers sit in the lobbies of the residence buildings in order to instill a sense of security. An additional safety device is the blue light phone. These emergency phones are located in various areas of campus, such as near the lakes and along the edge of campus by Stepan Fields. But chief of staff Katie Baker said NDSP does not advocate the phones as a strong form of crime prevention. “They don’t get used really and don’t deter crime,” Baker said. Rocheleau said one way to perhaps deter crime would be to expand the number of video cameras on campus, although Notre Dame already has several located on buildings overlooking the parking lots. Another idea to improve campus safety was to increase lighting around campus. Junior James Slaven, Student Union Board director of publicity, said the construction area around the Morris Inn is a safe walking area. He said the constant, bright lights allow students to feel safe at night, but the downside is the annoyance they cause to nearby dorms. “We need to find a balance between no lights and floodlights,” he said. Areas specified for increased lighting included God Quad, the crosswalks leading to Saint Mary’s and the paths around the Pasquerilla East and West areas. Baker said these locations deal with a large amount of student traffic even at night. “We mentioned putting reflectors on those crosswalks so they stand out more,” she said. Walsh Hall senator Veronica Guerrero said the issue of safety also requires common sense. For instance, students should not go on midnight runs around the lakes. “You have to be aware of your surroundings,” she said. In order to be fully aware, Rocheleau said it is also important to notice large sidewalk cracks and flooding around campus. Although the climate makes it difficult to maintain quality sidewalks, Rocheleau said the university acknowledges the problem and is trying to address it. “They’ve asked us to talk to people and get a list of specific areas,” Baker said.