TAMPA — Middle and high school girls In Florida, especially minority and LGBTQ girls, are victims of rape, bullying and depression at an alarming rate and are not getting the help they need, according to a new study.
The report, by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, found that girls in Florida are experiencing alarming rates of violence and victimization both at home and at school, putting them more at risk for trauma, behavioral issues and substance abuse.
Among the findings:
- Nine percent of high school girls report being “physically forced into sexual intercourse against their will.”
- Almost one in three girls say they don’t feel safe in their schools, while two-thirds say they have been victims of bullying.
- Almost 40 percent of girls experience depression, compared to 18 percent of boys.
- Girls who identify as lesbian or bisexual were three times more likely to have seriously considered suicide than their heterosexual peers.
“This is girls in middle and high school and one out of 10 are reporting rape; that should make everyone of us stop in our tracks,” said Lawanda Ravoira, the policy center’s president and CEO.
Ravoira visited Tampa Wednesday and spoke to an audience of about 100 professionals from foster care agencies, schools and non-profits. She warned that the high rates of bullying and violence can hinder girls in the classroom and lead to problems later in life, including anxiety, depression and aggression. For example, girls who do not feel safe at school are twice as likely to be suspended, the study shows.
And middle and high school girls in the Tampa Bay region are suffering similar levels of victimization, she said.
In Hillsborough, 62 percent of girls said they were the victims of verbal bullying. In Pinellas, it was 65 percent.
And in Pasco County, 40 percent of girls reported being victims of cyber bullying, above the statewide average of 35 percent.
RELATED: Results vary, but bullying and lack of student respect remain problems at Hillsborough schools
The data, Ravoira said, is evidence of the need for more counseling and other interventions tailored specifically for the problems girls experience. For example, while girls use alcohol and drugs at a similar rate to boys, girls are more likely to cite weight loss and depression as their motivation.
“Often we see young people placed in programs and expected to conform to what the program offers versus (it) being built specifically and deliberately to address their needs,” Ravoira said.
The first-of-its-kind study combined raw data from the Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey — which was administered to 54,000 students in grades six through 12 — and the Florida Youth Risk Behavior Survey, completed by 6,171 high school students. It also included state data on health, foster care and juvenile justice.
In many cases, it provided a first look at the data broken down by gender, race and ethnicity.
For example, a higher percentage of black girls — 16 percent — do not feel safe in their neighborhood compared to just 11 percent of white girls.
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Another concerning finding was the number of girls who became pregnant to older boys and men.
In 2018, almost 2,500 girls under 18 gave birth in Florida. That includes 214 Hillsborough girls, the second highest county in the state behind Miami-Dade.
In up to 40 percent of cases, the father’s details were missing from the birth certificate.
But in cases where the father’s details were present, 10 percent met Florida’s criteria for statutory rape, which for girls aged 16 or 17 means the man was older than 23.
The policy center is partnering with The Children’s Campaign to push state lawmakers to take action. When asked about the problems that boys face, Campaign President Roy Miller said boys will also benefit from improved counseling, therapy and other services.
“Even hard-crusted guys know boys and girls do not grow up the same way,” he said. "If we improve systemic care for girls, those same systems get better for boys.”