Paul Sterzing

Research Expertise and Interest

adolescent violence and victimization, polyvictimization rates among vulnerable adolescents, bullying involvement roles and mental health, sexual orientation and gender identity microaggressions, impact of family-level microaggressions and microaffirmations on mental health, disability, anti-ableism

Research Description

Paul R. Sterzing, PhD is an associate professor at the School of Social Welfare and a graduate of the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Sterzing is currently the Co-director of the Center for Prevention Research in Social Welfare, and a faculty affiliate with the Gender and Women's Studies Department.

Dr. Sterzing’s research fits within the following four interconnected areas:

Rates and Social Ecological Correlates of Bullying Involvement Roles among Vulnerable Adolescent Populations

Dr. Sterzing’s research identifies modifiable risk and protective factors associated with bullying involvement roles for autistic youth, adolescent girls in the child welfare system, and sexual and gender minority adolescents. Dr. Sterzing provided the first nationally representative estimates of bullying involvement roles for autistic youth: bully-only (5.8%), victim-only (37.4%), bully-victim (8.9%), and non-involved (47.9%). One of the most important findings from this study indicated that autistic youth who spent more than 75% of their time in a general education classroom had significantly higher adjusted odds of being a victim-only compared to their non-bullying involved counterparts. These findings suggest future bullying interventions need to increase the social integration of autistic youth into protective peer groups, while also increasing the empathy and social skills of neurotypical students toward their autistic peers. This study was published by the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and received considerable national media attention in the New York Times, Washington Post, US News and World Report, Time, and CNN.

Polyvictimization and the Deconstruction of Victimization Research Silos

Dr. Sterzing was the principal investigator for SpeakOut—a three-year study funded by the National Institute of Justice—to identify the lifetime and last year polyvictimization rates for a large, national sample of sexual and gender minority adolescents. SpeakOut provided the first comprehensive examination of more than 40 different forms of victimization from across different contexts (e.g., home, school, community, online) and perpetrators (e.g., parents, siblings, peers, dating partners). Compared to previous estimates, sexual and gender minority adolescents were polyvictimized at nearly twice the national rate (39.3% vs. 20%). Moreover, adolescents who identify as transgender or nonbinary were significantly more likely to be polyvictimized in the last year compared to their cisgender-sexual-minority male peers.

Developmental Victimology: Connections between Familial and Extrafamilial Victimization for Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents

Using a developmental victimology framework, Dr. Sterzing proposed two new family typologies—LGBTQ+ microaffirming and LGBTQ+ microaggressing—to explain differential rates of mental health problems, extrafamilial victimization, and polyvictimization within this population. Overall, sexual and gender minority adolescents in families with high-levels of LGBTQ+ microaggressions, violence, and non-violent adversity were at greater risk for polyvictimization, with posttraumatic stress functioning as the primary mechanism bridging familial and extrafamilial victimization. These findings suggest addressing trauma symptoms stemming from these family experiences of LGBTQ+ microaggressions, violence, and non- violent adversity could reduce rates of extrafamilial victimization and polyvictimization for sexual and gender minority adolescents.

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Microaggressions: Advancing Our Understanding of Subtle Forms of Victimization

Dr. Sterzing’s research is also advancing the study of microaggressions directed at sexual minorities, gender minorities, and cisgender women. For example, Dr. Sterzing first authored a “call-to-arms” paper for the field of social work that lays out a research agenda that explicitly adopts an intersectional lens to identify the frequency and multiplicative impact of microaggressions that simultaneously target a person’s sexual, gender, and racial identities. This research agenda calls for an examination of adolescent-specific developmental processes (e.g., puberty, identity development) and social contexts (e.g., family, education, and supportive spaces) on the frequency and health impact of microaggressions.

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