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The Age, 17th November, 1998
250 Spencer Street, Melbourne, 3000. Australia.
(Fax: + 61-3-9601-2414 ) (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )
Homosexual and bisexual youths face censure at home and school, says a survey.
By SALLY HEATH.
Homosexual and bisexual youths suffer high levels of violence, abuse and discrimination, particularly in schools, a national survey has found. The survey, based on written responses from 750 males and females aged 14 to 21, found almost 70per cent of the abuse occurred in schools.
The survey, which examined issues related to sexual and drug risk-taking, was conducted by the National Centre in HIV Social research at La Trobe University, under the direction of Dr Lynne Hillier.
It is claimed to be the first Australian study into the lives of young people attracted to members of their own sex. Based on almost equal numbers of responses from males and females, the survey found that young women were more likely to identify as "bisexual" than "lesbian", while young men were more likely to identify as gay' .
The young men were also more likely to have a partner that matched their sexual attraction, while many women who were attracted to women reported dating men. One of the researchers, Dr Deborah Dempsey, said this may in part be explained by the greater opportunity for men to have sexual encounters with other men in public and highly sexual "gay" contexts.
In contrast, "young women's homosexual exploration is more likely to be in the context of established friendships". She said women may choose not to act on same-sex attraction feelings for fear of jeopardising the relationship. Also, more young women could hide their same-sex attraction while taking part in public and approved partnering with young men.
One-third of the survey respondents said they had been unfairly treated or discriminated against because of their sexuality and 13 per cent had been physically abused. Almost half had been verbally abused.
The report said the high incidence of violence at school "represents a serious violation of these young people's rights to safety and of the duty of care of school authorities.
There also appeared to be a link between abuse and a high level of illegal drug use and alcohol among the group. Intravenous drugs had been used by 11 of those surveyed, with more women than men injecting drugs.
Participants who had been physically or verbally abused were more likely to be using heroin, marijuana and party drugs than those who said they had not been abused.
Disclosing their feelings to another person proved risky - only two-thirds found support from their mother and half from their father. Sisters were found to be most sympathetic.
Young people who had discussed their sexuality with at least one person were no better off than those who had remained silent, the researchers found. But there were clear psychological gains if they had told someone and received support.
The report recommends that schools develop policies to deal with homophobia, and that curricula acknowledge sexual diversity and experimentation.
Another researcher, Dr Lyn Harrison, said despite the apparent bleak findings many young people were positive about their sexuality and had experienced support from friends and family.
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