Gender diverse students ‘feel less safe’

An Australian study looked at how safe female, male, and gender diverse youth aged 11 to 19 felt at school and in other youth spaces, and how much each cohort trusted that adults would support them when they felt unsafe.

Researchers including Flinders University Professor Damien Riggs compared the responses of 27 male, 27 female, and 27 gender diverse youth, derived from a larger study of 1,400 young people.

Male and female youth felt about equally safe in the spaces they engaged with, while gender diverse participants felt significantly less safe.

In contrast, gender diverse youth had more faith than did male and female youth that adults would be supportive if they felt unsafe because of sexually questionable behaviour from a male peer or adult.

“Gender diverse participants had less faith in organisations to help keep them safe,” says lead author Douglas Russell , from Australian Catholic University. “Yet they were more likely than male and female students to show confidence that adults within these organisations would deal properly with instances of sexual harassment.”

“It may be partly because, given its setting and demographics, the school attended by 44% of the gender diverse participants was likely to have gender and sexuality diversity-affirming educational content.

“This would include advice on how to seek help when faced with gender-based harassment and support of gender and sexuality diverse students. This may have provided more confidence to this group that adults would try to help.”

Overall, though, participants of all genders were not very confident they would get the support they needed in cases of sexual harassment. They were asked to rate their agreement with a number of statements aimed at measuring their confidence they would get support; for example, “Adults at my school would know what to do if I told them I was unsafe”.

They could respond on a scale from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 5 (“strongly agree)”. Alarmingly, their responses averaged below 3.

Further, participants saw many barriers to seeking help, with many students expressing agreement with the statement that “adults don’t really care about young people in situations like this” or “wouldn’t know what to do”. Gender diverse participants reported no significant difference from their peers in regard to the barriers they faced to seeking support.

“In terms of the specific needs of gender diverse young people, schools that seek to foster safe spaces are likely to benefit from the inclusion of affirming student clubs or societies that focus on the needs of this diverse population of young people”, says co-author Professor Riggs from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University.

“Research has shown that the existence of such clubs or societies helps to reduce discrimination in schools, and hence foster a greater sense of school safety.”

Associate Professor Jacqueline Ullman, from Western Sydney University, says: “Our results highlight that schools and other youth-serving organisations need to be aware that gender diverse young people are likely to have greater safety concerns, and points to the importance of inclusive pre-service training of adults working with youth populations.”

‘Gender diversity and safety climate perceptions in schools and other youth-serving organisations’ (2020) by D Russell, J Anderson, D Riggs, J Ullman and D Higgins  has been published in Children and Youth Services Review
For more information about the original survey, go to:

This media release was compiled by the Media Centre for Education Research Australia (MCERA) contact


Posted in
College of Education Orama Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing