In today's technology-infused world, we need to better understand relationships youth form with friends online, how they compare to relationships formed in-person, and whether these online relationships confer protective benefits. This is particularly important from the perspective of peer victimization, given that social support in-person appears to reduce the odds of victimization in-person. To address this literature gap, data from a sample of 5,542 U.S. adolescents, collected online between August 2010 and January 2011, were analyzed. The main variables of interest were: online and in-person peer victimization (including generalized and bullying forms) and online and in-person sexual victimization (including generalized and sexual harassment forms). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth were more likely than non-LGBT youth to have online friends and to appraise these friends as better than their in-person friends at providing emotional support. Peer victimization and unwanted sexual experiences were more commonly reported by LGBT than non-LGBT youth. Perceived quality of social support, either online or in-person, did little to attenuate the relative odds of victimization for LGBT youth. For all youth, in-person social support was associated with reduced odds of bully victimization (online and in-person) and sexual harassment (in-person), but was unrelated to the other outcomes of interest. Online social support did not reduce the odds of any type of victimization assessed. Together, these findings suggest that online friends can be an important source of social support, particularly for LGBT youth. Nonetheless, in-person social support appears to be more protective against victimization, suggesting that one is not a replacement for the other.
Keywords: Bullying; LGBT; Sexual violence; Social support; Victimization.
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