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One in Ten Children Face Elevated Risk of Abuse, Future PTSD, Due to Gender Nonconformity.

Article / Review by on February 20, 2012 – 8:20 pmNo Comments

One in Ten Children Face Elevated Risk of Abuse, Future PTSD, Due to Gender Nonconformity

One in Ten Children Face Elevated Risk of Abuse, Future PTSD, Due to Gender NonconformityBoston, MA — 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 posttraumatic 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 February 20, 2012 and will appear in the March 2012 print issue of Pediatrics.

“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,” 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 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%), 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.

“Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth,” Andrea L. Roberts, Margaret Rosario, Healther L. Corliss, Karestan C. Koenen, S. Bryn Austin. Pediatrics, doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1804, online February 20, 2012.

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About Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights.

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Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, has an enrollment of over 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally. Harvard faculty are engaged with teaching and research to push the boundaries of human knowledge. For students who are excited to investigate the biggest issues of the 21st century, Harvard offers an unparalleled student experience and a generous financial aid program, with over $160 million awarded to more than 60% of our undergraduate students. The University has twelve degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, offering a truly global education.

‘Universities nurture the hopes of the world: in solving challenges that cross borders; in unlocking and harnessing new knowledge; in building cultural and political understanding; and in modeling environments that promote dialogue and debate… The ideal and breadth of liberal education that embraces the humanities and arts as well as the social and natural sciences is at the core of Harvard’s philosophy. ’/ Drew Gilpin Faust

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* The above story is adapted from materials provided by Harvard University

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