The state of LGBT related anti-bullying legislation in the United States

As the country recognizes and supports LGBT pride and awareness this month, advocates across the country are working to address the problem of LGBT-related bullying in schools.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) notes that two types of laws exist that are meant to protect LGBT children and youth in schools:  fully enumerated anti-bullying laws and non-discrimination laws.

Enumerated laws are specific to protecting students from bullying related to sexual orientation or gender. There are 15 states with this type of law including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Non-discrimination laws also exist to provide protection for LGBT students in schools. Unlike fully enumerated legislation, some of these laws do not protect against discrimination based on gender identity, which is the case in Wisconsin. However, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia do provide some protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This type of legislation is incredibly important in order to offer both legal and physical protection to students. GLSEN notes that 6 out of 10 students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and transgender students have an even higher rate at 8 out of 10. Bullying introduces terrible risks for children and perhaps the greatest for LGBT youth. Many children report feeling unsafe in school, but the reality is that many of them actually are not safe. As many as 1 out of 5 have been physically harmed according to the 2009 National School Climate Survey. When children and youth feel threatened at school this often leads to further problems such as depression, thoughts of suicide, poor grades, mental and physical health problems that can extend into adulthood.

This year more and more states are recognizing the need for better and fully enumerated laws and are responding to the need by increasing anti-bullying legislation in order to protect LGBT students.

Two recent examples of these efforts:

The Pennsylvania State Legislature is pushing legislation that will target bullying in schools specifically based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The legislation, known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act, supports a larger education bill to combat bullying and harassment. Read more about it here.

At the federal level, Senator Al Franken has recently reintroduced the Student Non-discrimination Act that offers protection to students against harassment and bullying based on gender or sexual identity. The bill offers nationwide protection, modeled after Title IX legislation, and remedies discrimination in public schools based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Do you know the laws in your state? What’s being done to protect LGBT students from bullying?


New Study: The Relationship between Protective Factors and Outcomes for Children Exposed to Violence

More and more research is revealing vital information about the issue of children’s exposure to violence (CEV). A new study from the Rand Corporation was released June 3 titled The Relationship between Protective Factors and Outcomes for Children Exposed to Violence.

The new study looks at protective factors that can help bolster children’s resilience and protect kids against the negative affects of exposure to violence. The authors’ goal is to better inform the creation and evidence-based intervention and prevention programs for children affected by violence.

Some of their findings showed:

• Children that had more experiences of violence re-exposure had more behavior problems than those children that had not been re-exposed.
• How protective factors and outcomes for these children are related.
• Intervention to enhance positive protective factors may be key to improving positive outcomes for children.

See the full abstract here.

To learn more please checkout the Safe Start Center’s publication page for a great selection of resources and links to more information about CEV.

New NCAVP report on LGBT-related violence and prevention programs

Coinciding with Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride month annually held in June, is a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), titled Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2012.  The report looks at national level data from 15 programs across 16 states that work towards anti-violence.

The report shows that although there has been a decrease in reported LGBT-related violence nationally, there has been a rise in some states like New York. Also troubling are the report numbers showing that children and young adults aged 29 and under represented almost half of the victims and survivors. This reveals the need to rapidly increase anti-violence programming for children and young adults.

However, the report does share some great examples of organizations already working to combat this violence. Based in Washington D.C., some of these organizations include Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) and the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC).  The report also noted Project Empowerment that has positively helped to increase access to education and employment for at-risk and disenfranchised LGBT residents.

Below are some recommendations and best practices included in the report:


  • Decrease the risk of severe violence and homicide through ending LGBTQ and HIV-affected poverty.
  • Increase funding for LGBTQ and HIV-affected anti-violence support and prevention programs.
  • Community Based Organizations should create programs and campaigns to prevent anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected harassment and violence.
  • Schools and universities should create LGBTQ and HIV-affected anti-violence initiatives and LGBTQ and HIV-affected-inclusive curricula to reduce hate violence and harassment.
  • Schools, universities, and community-based organizations, including anti-violence programs, service organizations, and faith organizations, should collect data on violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected people.

Engaging boys in teen dating violence prevention

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Statistics say one in 10 high school students report being purposely physically hurt by a boyfriend/girlfriend. Preventing teen dating violence and treating victims involves everyone, including parents, educators and peers. More and more, engaging men and boys in teen dating violence prevention is becoming an important piece of the prevention puzzle.

Safe Start Center Director Elena Cohen answers a few questions about how best to engage men and boys and why it’s important.

Why is it important to engage boys in teen dating violence prevention?

Teen dating violence is a significant public health concern in the U.S.  Although there are a growing number of legal and social services for teens, we don’t have effective resources for helping men learn to recognize and take responsibility for their patterns of hurtful behavior.  Some of these men have been exposed to violence themselves, and as a result, they feel the emotional, physical and mental impacts of this violence.  Often men try not to pay attention to their pain and believe that an admission of difficulties is showing weakness and a proof of not being a “real man.” Sometimes violence is an attempt to cope with hidden pain.

Violence prevention requires a change in the social conditions that impact the community which make violence normal and acceptable. Men and boys receive, sort through, and enforce messages about relationships, violence and power every day. Men and boys also send powerful messages about relationships, violence, and power that affect members of society. Generally speaking, men have greater access to resources and opportunities to influence large social structures and institutions. They, as a result, play an important role to prevent teen dating violence

What ways/strategies have you found effective in reaching boys about teen dating violence prevention?

Young men are trained to be masculine in a way that leads to confusion, repression, isolation and domination. The understanding of what it takes to be a successful man is going through big changes. Teenagers are being called upon to develop new ways of relating to their emotions, their dating partners, even their work. This can easily leave young men feeling confused, disoriented and overwhelmed.

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Teen Dating Violence: digital abuse and sexting

This month, teens and communities are working together to shed light on the different forms that teen dating abuse can take. Check out the video below to see what teens are saying about teen dating violence and what it looks like to them.

One article notes  that at least 10 percent  of teens have been involved in a violent dating situation and the rising use of technology among teens as young as 12 may be contributing to these numbers.

PEW research found:

  • Almost 60 percent of 12 year olds now have cell phones
  • As of 2009, 83 percent of 17 year olds have cell phones – up from 64 percent in 2004
  • 50 is the median number of texts that are sent daily by 12-17 year olds

Use of this of technology has also led to a rise in the occurrence of ‘sexting.’

What is sexting? 

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How common is it?

PEW found that among surveyed teens aged 12-17:

  • 15 percent have received or sent suggestive images of themselves or someone else via text.
  • Older teens are more likely to participate in explicit image texting.
  • Teens with unlimited text messaging plans – 75 percent of teens with cell phones — are more likely to report receiving sexually suggestive texts.
  • 18 percent of teens with unlimited texting plans are more often receiving nude or nearly nude images or video via their phones.

Why is it problematic?

Sexting I is extremely common among teens and contributes to negative risky sexual behaviour, exposure to violence and coercion in young relationships. In January, a young girl fell victim to the dangers of sexting and was bullied into performing sexual acts after a party. A clip of her was taken and she was threatened with it being shared at school. Additionally, teens participating in sending explicit images are also at risk of legal action under child pornography rules. An example of this activity happened in Pennsylvania last month when two teens were cited for sending explicit photos of themselves.

What is an appropriate response?

Continuing to raise awareness about the dangers associated with digital abuse and sexting is the first step to combating the problem. Professionals, non-profits and communities are working on the response and shares some ideas for how to respond, including:

  • Talk to kids about healthy dating relationships and the issue of sexting.
  • Make sure they understand the legal consequences of participating in sending explicit messages and images.
  • Share real stories about what can happen when sending or receiving images.
  • Practice appropriate responses with kids so they can use them if they’re pressured into sexting.

For more information on understanding how to respond, check out Futures Without Violence’s guide to Effective Responses to Teen Sexting.

Human Trafficking Prevention and Awareness Update for 2013

According to the U.S. Department of State 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, more than 27 million individuals are victimized by human trafficking yearly, and 300,000 of these victims are children trafficked in the U.S. It also remains the second fastest growing criminal industry in the world and almost every trafficking incident is related to exposure to or the threat of violence.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, the consequences of trafficking are vast. The largest affected group are children – abused and neglected youth, girls, runaways, and homeless youth. Trafficked children are also among those that have a higher probability of being exposed to violence and experiencing negative outcomes, including poor mental and physical health and substance abuse issues. Additionally, some trafficked youth face further traumatic stress in the event of a rescue. Poor understanding and knowledge about trafficking in the U.S. has led to cases of children being arrested for prostitution and not receiving the services they need to cope with their experience.

The good news is real awareness and prevention efforts are on the rise to stop these experiences from happening. This month President Obama has proclaimed National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, 2013.

Several states are also redoubling their efforts to prevent and protect children from being trafficked. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has asked the State’s Department of Justice for $900,000 to expand services and employment for staff to work specifically on child sex trafficking prevention and prosecution efforts. In Louisiana anti-slavery advocates are promoting awareness efforts through a billboard campaign to end human trafficking and both state and non-profit agencies are improving efforts to collect data to promote prevention efforts.

As state and federal officials work to correct laws to protect children affected by trafficking everyone can help prevention efforts by first recognizing there is a problem and promoting education and community response. Please check out the links below to see more about new efforts to promote trafficking awareness and response.

Selling American Girls: The Truth About Domestic Minor Sex-Trafficking

Not For Sale Campaign

Passion 2013 Freedom Campaign

UNICEF launches ‘Believe in ZERO Exploited Children’ campaign

Awareness: the Link Between Bullying and Suicide

This past weekend, a family and community got together to remember 12-year-old Payton Ruth Anne Richardson, who shot herself six months ago. In her memory they are working to raise awareness about bullying because they believe that it contributed to her suicide. More of the story is available here.

More and more, stories like Payton’s have been seen in the news in the last year, and it isn’t just a problem in the United States. Just a few months ago, a 13-year-old Japanese boy jumped to his death after having been forced to regularly “practice suicide.” A report from the BBC shares a video about a study conducted by a bullying prevention charity, Beatbullying. It found that possibly more than 40 percent of suicides among 10- to 14-year-olds may be bullying-related.

There is also a growing number of statistics on the link between bullying and suicide. shares a list:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. More than 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
  • Victims of bullying are between two  to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying.
  • 10- to 14-year-old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above.
  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.

Suicide is the worst potential consequence related to exposure to bullying. It is important that children, parents and communities are fully aware of both the signs and symptoms of bullying and suicide. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center recently shared an issue brief on Suicide and Bullying that frames the issue and provides some great ideas for prevention. You can check it out here.

For more resources and information on the issue of bullying and prevention, checkout the Safe Start Center Bullying Resources page.

Stopping Exposure to Community Violence: The Interrupters

Violence in America is a growing public health crisis, and the City of Chicago has seen some of the worst of its outbreaks in the past few years. Communities are losing children and teens every day to the affects of this violence exposure. But community members and organizations are working to prevent and reduce this impact. One of these organizations really stands out from the crowd.

CeaseFire was founded by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, who once fought infectious diseases in the developing world. His belief is that the spread of violence works exactly the same way as disease, and that in order to stop it, it must be treated in the same way. One of the most compelling aspects of the organization is their Violence Interrupters program. It works because it employs the people who once carried out violence in the streets. Because of their history they have the drive to prevent further violence and the experience and credibility that get people to listen. They operate under the assumption that people about to transmit violence have two thoughts:

  1. I have a grievance
  2. That grievance justifies violence

To target and stop this violence Interrupters focus on that last thought. Their role is to do an interruption at the start of violence transmission, similar to stopping an infectious disease at is source.

These unlikely advocates were recently the topic of a documentary, The Interrupters. It follows three Interrupters as they work in their neighbourhoods mediating conflict. These men and women provide compelling insight into what drives the spread of violence in their city and its root cause. One of the main themes throughout the film is that the cycle of violence is rooted deeply in the structure of the neighbourhood. The film also argues that violence is not part of who a person is but a learned behaviour. It really is a disease.  Similar to someone with a family history of cancer might expect to die from it, people in these neighbourhoods expect to die from the after-effects of violence.

These Interrupters are:

Ameena Matthews, a former gang enforcer and the daughter of one of Chicago’s most famous gang leaders.

Cobe Williams, a man that was exposed to violence at a young age through the murder of his father, but turned his life around to support his family.

Eddie Bocanegra, a former gang member working to help children exposed to violence cope with what they’ve seen.

The film is both heartbreaking and encouraging. It’s devastating to see the impact that violence has had on these Interrupters and every member of their communities. Two stories in the film about the impact of violence exposure on children really stood out.

In one of Eddie’s art therapy classes, one little girl breaks down in tears because her mother won’t allow her outside very often because of the fear she’ll be shot. Another scene depicts a former gang member returning to a barbershop where he committed a robbery. He apologizes for his actions and learns how one mother and child still cope daily with the fear they experienced that day.

But the film really leaves you with a feeling of hope. Throughout the film, even though the threat of violence is still strong in the community, people are listening and working to reduce and prevent exposure to violence.

You can view the film for free here.

July 4th Remembrance-Children and Military Families


July 4th is an important day of remembrance, celebrating freedom. It’s also a great time to remember and say thanks to the U.S. Armed Forces and their children and families for the sacrifices they’ve made to help protect that freedom.

Close to half the men and women in all branches of the military have children and many of those children are of school age. Those children and parents often face many challenges during deployment and in peacetime. They face exposure to violence and traumatic experiences through things such as bullying at school or domestic violence at home.

In a recent article, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta talks about the challenges facing children in military families citing examples such as “the children of a career service member will move an average of eight times during their school years. They will spend long periods away from their parents, and they will move between school systems that differ in quality.” It is noted in Bullying and the Military Child that these frequent movements can make children especially vulnerable to bullying because they are constantly re-establishing identities.

In addition, these children and their families are also at higher risk for exposure to violence through incidents of domestic violence. A few years ago, the New York Times shared a series on what can happen when war veterans return home. There were several devastating stories of domestic violence situations that escalated and turned deadly for the family.

The important thing to remember is that people, communities, organizations, and the government are really working to raise awareness and provide support to families in order to build hope and work to prevent and reduce risks. A few recent examples in the news include:

Coming Together Around Military Families ®: an online newsletter from Military Family Projects at ZERO TO THREE

The National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families shares some great new resources for veterans and active military personnel and their families.

Experts get elementary to help children in military families

A program implemented in six elementary schools at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is placing mental-health experts in classrooms to help children in military families cope when their parents are deployed.

Mental health group urges increased assistance for military, families

A new report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness said the government needs to fill the gaps in mental health coverage for America’s soldiers and veterans, who – along with their families – face high rates of mental illness.

Sean Farnham aiming to bring basketball to military children

Sean Farnham, college basketball analyst for ESPN, has started a foundation, Hoops From Home. It is an organization that, on the surface, is designed to bring basketball camps to kids living on military bases. The hope is that it will provide kids with an outlet to deal with the stress of having a deployed parent and to help them build relationships.

Finally, as you celebrate the 4th this year, please remember our troops and their families!

International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

Today is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. This awareness day, created in 1987 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly was created to work towards a society free of drugs and violence. Each year the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) promotes a theme of health to raise awareness about the global problem of drugs.

The UN Secretary General notes that “drug abuse and illicit trafficking continue to have a profoundly negative impact on development and stability across the world. The billions of dollars generated from illicit drugs fuel terrorist activities and abet other crimes such as human trafficking and the smuggling of arms and people.” These kinds of activities put children at an even greater risk for exposure to violence. The National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence reminds us that each year American children are exposed to violence, crime and abuse in their communities and at home. They are more at risk for developing the following:

  • Psychological health outcomes
  • Physical health outcomes
  • Academic difficulties and failure
  • Behavioral problems
  • Delinquency and offending
  • Poly-victimization

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