Risks of harm
Evidence suggests that LGBTQ+ children and young people might be at increased risk of some forms of harm.
Child sexual exploitation
LGBTQ+ relationships are underrepresented in educational resources and the media (Barnardo’s and Fox, 2016). This means there are fewer examples of relevant, healthy relationships available to LGBTQ+ young people. If LGBTQ+ young people are not taught about healthy and unhealthy relationships, it might be easier for an abuser to groom them into believing an abusive relationship is normal.
If LGBTQ+ young people are unable to get information about sex and relationships from school or family, they might seek advice and support from people in adult spaces, such as gay clubs. This is particularly true of young people who live in rural areas or in communities where their gender identity or sexuality is not accepted. Adult spaces don’t have the same safeguarding and child protection measures in place as spaces specifically for children. Children might be pressured or coerced into doing something they don’t want to do, particularly if they are already isolated and don’t have anywhere else to turn for support (Barnardo’s and Fox, 2016).
The adults around a child can sometimes assume that it’s normal for LGBTQ+ young people to have sex at a younger age as part of exploring their identity. This means the adults might not consider being involved in underage sexual activity as a possible sign of abuse, and do not take appropriate action to protect the child. Similarly, professionals might not always consider the possibility that an adult woman is sexually exploiting a girl (Barnardo’s and Fox, 2016).
The internet can be a great place of advice, support and community for young LGBTQ+ people. However, there are also risks associated with using the internet.
LGBTQ+ children might use adult dating apps to meet other LGBTQ+ people, especially if they can’t find inclusive offline spaces or communities nearby. These apps are designed for adults and are not moderated in the same way as platforms designed specifically for children. This means the young people using them might encounter sexual content which could be harmful, and are likely to come into contact with adults who are looking for a sexual relationship (Internet Matters, 2021).
"I am really struggling with my emotions. I met someone online and we got on really well. We talked a lot and he knew I was desperate for money so offered to pay me for nudes. I trusted him and really needed the money, so I sent them. I immediately regretted it afterwards and got scared so I have blocked him and deleted everything to do with the account and images. I feel so disgusting and vile about it. I just want to be able to live with myself and not feel constantly guilty. I am ashamed and have learnt a lesson from it and will never let myself be manipulated like this again".
Childline counselling session with a 15-year-old boy
There is some evidence to suggest that LGBTQ+ children and young people are more likely to meet a partner or ask someone out online (McGeeney et al, 2017). The research suggests this could be because young people find it hard to meet other openly LGBTQ+ people in their community, or because they don’t want to come out to people in their offline lives (McGeeney et al, 2017). This research also showed that gay and lesbian young people were significantly more likely to meet up with someone offline who they had first met online and who was not who they said they were (McGeeney et al, 2017).
Online grooming could happen to any child or young person. But if an LGBTQ+ child or young person hasn’t come out, or feels that their gender identity or sexuality needs to be kept secret, perpetrators can take advantage of this to prevent the child from telling anyone about the relationship or to coerce them into meeting offline without telling anyone else.
Any young person might become involved in sending or receiving sexual photos or messages online. They might do this consensually, or they could feel pressured by their peers or adults. Once an image is shared online, young people have no control over how other people might use it. Some adults online might target LGBTQ+ young people to groom or blackmail them into sending explicit images or videos of themselves (Internet Matters, 2021).
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Children and young people might also encounter non-sexual harmful content on the internet.
They might seek information about a range of LGBTQ+ issues online, particularly if they don’t have any other sources of information. While doing so, they might come across inaccurate material, hate comments or content that isn’t age appropriate. All of these can cause children distress (Government Equalities Office, 2018; Ofsted and Brown, 2021).
Children might see anti-LGBTQ+ posts or homophobic, biphobic and transphobic comments even if they aren’t specifically looking for information about LGBTQ+ issues. These can be distressing whether or not the child or young person is directly being targeted (Internet Matters, 2021).
Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying is based on prejudice or negative attitudes about gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. This can include name calling, using offensive language and negative stereotyping. Bullying can happen anywhere, including at home, at school or online (cyberbullying).
HBT bullying can affect children who have come out as LGBTQ+, who are questioning their gender identity or sexuality or who don’t conform to gender stereotypes and are seen as ‘different’ (Scottish Government, 2021). It might also affect children and young people who have LGBTQ+ family members.
“People in my school bully me. They push me around, hit me and spit at me and call me names. I go to the LGBTQ+ club at school to avoid them, but they follow me and keep shouting names at me. I feel stressed and annoyed and like I am not part of the school or welcomed anymore. I am too scared to tell on the bullies because last time I reported them it made the bullying worse.”
Childline counselling session with a 13-year-old child
Some children have reported experiencing HBT bullying, verbal assault and physical assault in school because of their gender identity or sexuality. This can leave them feeling unsafe in school environments (Government Equalities Office, 2018; Ofsted, 2021; Scottish Government, 2021).
Children and young people who experience HBT bullying can be more likely to have suicidal thoughts and feelings, or self-harm (McDermott, Hughes and Rawlings, 2017).