High Victimization Rates among Youth with SAD

A review of “Social anxiety disorder and victimization in a community sample of adolescents.”

Article summary provided by Hillary Greene

THE MAIN POINT: Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is common among youth, as is victimization through peer, family, or other interactions. Although research has examined the relationship between SAD and trauma or victimization in adults, little research has examined the association between SAD and victimization in youth. In order to address this gap in knowledge, this study surveyed high school adolescents and found clear associations between self-reported SAD and experiences with victimization. The details and implications of this study are discussed below (Gren-Landell, Aho, Andersson, & Svedin, 2011).


What were the goals of this study?

The main goal of this study was to increase understanding regarding the relationship between SAD and victimization in high school adolescents. This study also sought to establish what types of victimization might correspond with SAD in youth and what gender differences might exist across these experiences.

How did this study address these goals?

This study used a cross-sectional design to survey high-school adolescents, which means that all data were collected at one time versus tracking individuals over time, as with longitudinal studies. Note, although this study was done in Sweden, the ways that SAD and victimization were assessed in this study and the types of experiences the youth face translate to adolescents in generally similar cultures. Therefore, the findings of this study are meaningful for understanding SAD and youth in the United States.

Participants completed computerized questionnaires while in school, which asked about symptoms and difficulties associated with SAD and asked about various types of victimization experiences. Individuals completed the social phobia screening questionnaire for children (SPSQ-C), which asks about social situations that might create great fear and about specific criteria required for a diagnosis of SAD. Individuals also completed the juvenile victimization questionnaire (JVQ), which asks about five different areas in which youth might experience offense. These domains assessed experience with conventional crime, such as robbery or assault, maltreatment, such as abuse or neglect by a caregiver, peer or sibling victimization, such as bullying or dating violence, sexual victimization, such as sexual harassment or rape, and witnessing victimization, such as exposure to shootings or domestic violence. Adolescents indicated what types of victimization they experienced in the past year and before last year. Participants also reported demographic information about themselves and parents.

What were the main results of this study?

Looking just at social phobia, 10.6% of the total 3211 adolescents reported significant problems with SAD, and of this group, females (14.9%) were significantly more likely than males (6.2%) to report SAD. Looking just at victimization, adolescents reported experiencing on average about two incidents of victimization in the past year and about four incidents in prior years. Overall, about 24% of these youth reported experiencing maltreatment, 22.6% reported sexual victimization, 54.3% reported victimization by peers or siblings, 65% reported conventional crime, and 55.9% reported witnessing crime. In other words, about one quarter of these youth reported experiencing some type of maltreatment and/or sexual victimization and over half of these youth reported experiencing victimization by peers or siblings, by means of conventional crime, and/or by observing crime or violence.

Overall, this study found that there was a significant relationship between self-reported SAD and rates of victimization among high-school youth. In particular, the youth who reported problems with social phobia reported significantly greater problems than other youth in areas of maltreatment, sexual victimization, and peer or sibling victimization. Gender differences also emerged, such that females with SAD reported higher rates of victimization than males with SAD.

Note, the design of this study allowed researchers to identify relationships between SAD and victimization. However, this study was not designed to determine if victimization causes SAD. Examining causality require longitudinal studies that can examine how SAD develops over time in relation to other factors, such as victimization. There could be many explanations for high rates of victimization and high rates of SAD in these youth. For example, victimization experiences could increase the likelihood that youth develop SAD, youth with SAD might be more vulnerable to interpersonal situations associated with victimization, such as bullying, or another factor might be causing both increased SAD and increased victimization. Therefore, these findings raise awareness about patterns of victimization among youth with SAD, but more research is needed to examine the specific ways that these factors are related.

How might families and supporters use this research to help youth with social anxiety disorder?

Families, teachers, or others working with youth should increase awareness regarding the high rates of victimization that adolescents experience, which are even higher among youth suffering from SAD. In particular, families and supporters should be vigilant about the multiple ways in which youth might experience victimization, through exposure to crime, violence, or assault, through inappropriate physical, sexual, or emotional treatment by adults, and especially through harmful interactions with peers or siblings, such as emotional or physical bullying or dating violence. Given the struggles youth with SAD face with interpersonal communication, families should be particularly engaged with their children, knowledgeable about their children’s experiences at home, school, and community, and open with children about discussing issues of victimization. If families, teachers, or others are concerned that an adolescent might be experiencing victimization in any of the areas described, they should seek professional guidance as needed in order to safeguard the well-being of the child.

Where can families and supporters learn more about this research?

The study discussed here is available for free at this link: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140197110000461


Gren-Landell, M., Aho, N., Andersson, G., & Svedin, C. G. (2011). Social anxiety disorder and victimization in a community sample of adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 569-577.

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