ACU study finds gender diverse students feel unsafe at school

Gender diverse youth feel significantly less safe at school than other students but they trust adults to tackle sexual harassment and support them in risky situations, according to a new Australian Catholic University study.

The study Gender diversity and safety climate perceptions in schools and other youth-serving organisations, published in Children and Youth Services Review, looked at how safe female, male, and gender diverse youth, aged 11 to 19, felt at school and in other youth spaces.

Lead author Douglas Russell from ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies said the study highlighted that gender diverse young people are more likely to have greater safety concerns.

“While gender diverse youth had less faith in organisations to help keep them safe, they were more likely to show confidence that adults within these organisations would properly deal with instances of sexual harassment and be supportive if they felt unsafe because of sexually questionable behavior,” he said.

Mr Russell said an explanation for the contrasting result may be partly explained by the setting and demographics of a school that took part.

“The school attended by 44 per cent of the gender diverse participants was likely to have gender and sexuality diversity-affirming educational content, including advice on how to seek help when faced with gender-based harassment and support of gender and sexuality diverse students. This may have provided more confidence to this group that adults would try to help.”

ACU researchers, including leading child protection expert Professor Daryl Higgins and social psychologist Dr Joel Anderson, worked with Professor Damien Riggs of Flinders University and Associate Professor Jacqueline Ullman of Western Sydney University on the study.

They compared responses of 27 male, 27 female, and 27 gender diverse youth, from a larger study of 1400 young people.

Professor Daryl Higgins, director of ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies, said: “These results highlight that schools and other youth-serving organisations need to be aware that gender diverse young people are likely to not only perceive their own safety differently, but view differently the likelihood of receiving an appropriate response to concerns they may raise, compared to young people identifying as female or male.”

Co-author Professor Damien Riggs, of Flinders University, said schools that seek to foster safe spaces are likely to benefit from the inclusion of affirming student clubs or societies that focus on the needs of this diverse population of young people.

“Research has shown that the existence of such clubs or societies helps to reduce discrimination in schools, and hence foster a greater sense of school safety,” he said.

Read more about Children and Young People’s Safety, here.


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