A Qualitative Exploration of the Child Abuse Experiences of Sexual and Gender Minority Refugees and Asylees in the United States and Canada

  • Edward J. Alessi
  • Sarilee Kahn
  • Sangeeta Chatterji
  • Dean Manning


Research has shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children are likely to experience chronic victimization and that these experiences correlate with numerous mental health problems. However, there is little understanding of the abuse experiences of LGBT children living in countries where rights for sexual and gender minorities are limited or nonexistent. In this chapter, we explore the child abuse experiences that contribute to LGBT individuals’ decision to flee their countries of origin in search of protection. In addition, we examine the impact of these abuse experiences on their pre-migration mental health. We conducted 26 interviews with individuals who obtained refugee or asylee status in the United States or Canada on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Participants originated from countries in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. We identified the following themes: abuse by parents and caregivers, abuse by peers and school personnel, having nowhere to turn, and dealing with psychological distress. Findings demonstrate that participants experienced severe verbal, physical, and sexual abuse throughout childhood and adolescence and that this abuse occurred at home, in school, and in the community. Furthermore, there were no resources or sources of protection available to them. Participants linked their abuse to subjective experiences of depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress, as well as suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. We provide implications for clinical practice as well as international policies that protect the well-being of children.


LGBT forced migrants Asylum seekers Refugees Child abuse 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward J. Alessi
    • 1
  • Sarilee Kahn
    • 2
  • Sangeeta Chatterji
    • 1
  • Dean Manning
    • 1
  1. 1.Rutgers, The State University of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA
  2. 2.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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