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Political controversies associated with increased bullying

ANI | May 14, 2019 12:31 PM
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Washington D.C. [USA], May 14 (ANI): Heated political discourse over proposed laws involving marginalised groups can contribute to an increase in bullying.

The study found that in the run-up to a statewide voter referendum to ban gay marriage in California, young people reported significantly more homophobic bullying. In fact, homophobic bullying peaked that school year and declined after the public debate about the initiative in question subsided.

"We think that young people don't hear what adults and lawmakers are talking about, but they do," said Stephen Russell, senior author of the paper and chair of the Human Development and Family Sciences Department at The University of Texas at Austin.

According to researchers, the study provides empirical evidence that public debates about policies and laws involving marginalised groups can lead bullies to target young people identified as being part of those groups.

"Public votes and voter referendums on the rights of minority groups occur in approximately half of U.S. states. Our findings suggest that the public discourse surrounding these votes may increase the risk for bias-based bullying" said Mark Hatzenbuehler, first author of the paper published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The study looked at yearly survey data from nearly 5 million middle and high school students in more than 5,000 schools in California from 2001 to 2015 and whether those students experienced homophobic bullying.

Between the 2001-02 school year and the 2008-09 school year, during which the Proposition 8 vote took place, the rate of homophobic bullying increased, rising from 7.6 percent of students reporting they experienced bullying to 10.8 per cent -- a 30 per cent increase -- even as trends in other types of bullying related to race or ethnicity, religion, and gender declined.

Homophobic bullying peaked that year, with 10.8 per cent of students reporting they experienced bullying, but the rate steadily decreased every year after. Russell pointed out that the rate of homophobic bullying was higher even than the estimated population of LGBT students.

"The data are telling us that straight kids are getting bullied for this, too. It's all about what the bullies perceive," Russell said.

Many schools have initiatives to prevent bullying and bias, so the team also examined whether campuses with a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club experienced a protective effect against homophobic bullying.

They found rates of homophobic bullying, in fact, were lower on campuses with these clubs during the 2008-09 school year: Homophobic bullying was below 10 per cent on campuses with GSA organizations and nearly 13 per cent on campuses without a GSA.

The negative impacts of bullying and bias on mental health are well established, but what is not well known is what factors in the culture and society contribute to bullying. Because the paper shows public discourse can play a role, the findings could have implications for discussions of other policy issues that focus on marginalized or minority groups. (ANI)

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