A startling new study reveals that children whose “activity choices, interests, and pretend play don’t conform to expected gender roles” have higher rates of abuse and future trauma. The study was published online this February and asked 9,000 young adults between the age of 17 and 27 to recall their childhood experiences, including their favorite toys, games, characters in popular media they admired, and whether or not they took on traditional male/female roles in pretend play.
Children who were not “extremely typical in their gender expression” faced “harmful discrimination and intolerance that has a lasting impact,” said lead researcher Andrea Roberts from the Department of Society, Human Development, at the Harvard School of Public Health. Here are their key findings:
- Gender non-conforming children were more likely to be sexually, physically, and psychologically abused as well as experience post-traumatic stress disorder by early adulthood.
- Even more tragic—the abuse was mostly performed by parents or other adult figures in the children’s homes.
- Girls who were gender non-conforming were at a 60% higher risk for sexual abuse than conforming girls.
- The risk was nearly three times greater for gender non-conforming boys compared to conforming boys.
- For both girls and boys, the rate of PTSD was almost twice as high for gender non-conforming children than conforming children.
Roberts says that more research is needed to determine why the risk of abuse is so high for non-conforming children, and what contributes to this abuse. Roberts suggests that one factor may be adults who “may have the idea, ‘If I force him not to be that way, he won’t be like that as an adult.’” She continued by saying, “Parents need to be aware that discrimination against gender non-conformity affects one in ten kids, affects kids at a very young age, and has lasting impacts on health.”