Gender Nonconformity Linked To Child Abuse
Girls who dress or act like boys, and boys who act feminine may be more likely to be abused and end up with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a U.S. study.
Researchers whose findings appeared in the Pediatrics medical journal said that parents or other adults who are uncomfortable with gender nonconformity may treat children differently, sometimes violently, or be convinced that they can change their feelings and behavior.
"In some cases, they believe they're helping the child, that gender nonconforming won't be accepted by other people," said Andrea Roberts, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, who worked on the study. "But of course, abuse is never protective."
Roberts and her colleagues analyzed data from a long-term study on children and teens that looked at more than 16,000 children who recalled their favorite toys, roles they took on during play, and feelings of femininity or masculinity at age 11.
The participants were also asked about instances of abuse — from kicking and grabbing, to threatening, to forced sexual contact — that happened either before that time or during their adolescent years.
The researchers found that children who were the most gender nonconforming were between 40 percent and more than twice as likely to report any kind of childhood abuse as those who did conform to typical gender roles.
They also reported more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including jumpiness, trouble sleeping and flashbacks.
Roberts said that although the findings can't prove that parents abused boys because they acted like girls, and vice versa, the study hints that gender nonconformity in younger children predicted abuse in teenage years.
Researchers said that the most important thing for nonconforming children is to get support from their families and schools.