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An Interview with Aynsley Pescitelli M.A., B.A. (First Class Hons.)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/11/15


Aynsley Pescitelli M.A., B.A. (First Class Hons.) is a doctoral candidate with some research into cyberbullying, transphobia, and homophobia. She discusses: cyberbullying; prevalence data; and transphobia and homophobia.

Keywords: Aynsley Pescitelli, cyberbullying, homophobia, transphobia.

An Interview with Aynsley Pescitelli M.A., B.A. (First Class Hons.)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You work on cyberbullying. What defines it? 

Aynsley Pescitelli M.A., B.A.: My interest in the topic has always been on the groups that are understudied or have not previously been given a voice in the research literature.  Both postsecondary students and LGBTQ+ persons fit into this research gap; the bulk of the work in this area continues to focus on elementary, middle, and high school populations, and students are examined in large-scale quantitative studies that either do not include LGBTQ+ students or include them as an afterthought or comparison point for non-LGBTQ+ individuals.

I was interested in adding rich, detailed, individual-level data about the experiences of LGBTQ+ postsecondary students to this area of research to examine how their experiences compared to younger samples and the existing limited information about postsecondary populations to hopefully start to fill that glaring gap in the literature.

2. Jacobsen: What ranges of prevalence exist throughout the world based on the best data available

Pescitelli: This is a tough question.  In terms of the LGBTQ+ experience specifically (and more explicitly in the postsecondary arena), there really is not enough research to provide a clear answer to this question.  There just has not been enough of a focus on LGBTQ+ students specifically, so incidence rates are either absent or tough to quantify due to missing data and problems with operationalization in large-scale datasets.

In terms of my own work I cannot really speak to this, since my study was a small-scale qualitative one and one of the criteria for inclusion was that participants had experienced cybervictimization.  So, everyone in my sample had been cyberbullied in one form or another since starting college or university.

In terms of the general postsecondary population, as Chantal mentioned at the book launch, the rates vary greatly from study to study based on definitions employed and other study characteristics (e.g. who was sampled, what the research questions were, time of victimization (lifetime vs within a specified time), etc).

Even within the book, the rates vary greatly from chapter to chapter (ranging from 12.5% in the Chilean sample to over 50% in the chapter from France; other authors found rates somewhere in between).  It certainly appears to be an issue that continues beyond secondary school, regardless of location, but the degree of cyberbullying varies quite a bit throughout the world (at least in terms of the studies conducted to date).

3. Jacobsen: What defines transphobia and homophobia? Why focus on these topics within the research on cyberbullying, as this seems niche subject matter?

Pescitelli: The definitions I employed in my study were as follows:

Homophobia is often referred to as a “fear or hatred or homosexuality and gays and lesbians in general” (Pickett, 2009, p. 93).  It is also often used to explain orientation-based discrimination experienced by bisexual, pansexual, and questioning individuals (Blackburn, 2012; Conoley, 2008; Weiss, 2003).

While homosexuality and bisexuality relate to sexual orientation, transgender relates to gender roles and identities (Nagoshi et al., 2008).  Transgender is likely often subsumed under the wider LGB category because it has only been distinguished from homosexuality within the past century (Pickett, 2009; Weiss, 2003).  Transphobia is described as “fear and/or emotional disgust towards individuals who do not conform to society’s gender expectations” (Watjen & Mitchell, 2013, p. 135).

I think it is important to focus on populations that are understudied or have not previously been afforded research attention.  I would not personally describe it as a niche, but I can understand it appears as such.   The research that does exist points to LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing higher than average rates of both in-person and cyberbullying in postsecondary settings.

So that was what initially drew me to the research area; while this group may be a small one (depending on the institution or location), existing research at all levels of education indicated that this group experienced higher rates of online victimization when compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers.

So, I wondered why, despite the persistence of this finding, there continued to be such a dearth of research in the area.  Most of the studies that included LGBTQ+ students did so in what felt like an ad hoc fashion (e.g. they noticed there was a difference in experiences, but the sample of students within that group was too small for them to unpack those differences), where the difference was acknowledged but not expanded upon.

Or it was used as a simple comparison point among a large sample of students but, again, not really explained or properly unpacked.  This led me to wonder what similarities and differences existed, and to want to focus an in-depth study on this under-researched group so that I could perhaps start to expand on some of the earlier findings that had little explanatory value

While I was not able to comment on overall incidence rates due to my small sample with a qualitative focus, I was able to learn a lot about the individuals I interviewed and their recent and historical experiences with homophobia and/or transphobia in online settings.  They had all experienced cyberbullying of this nature at very high rates and in various locations.

This was not a new experience to any of them; while they continued to experience online bullying frequently, they also had experienced such victimization prior to starting their postsecondary studies.  As I mentioned when we chatted in person, the forms of cyberbullying (e.g. modes of perpetration, location of bullying) did not seem to differ a great deal from non-LGBTQ+ individuals studied in related research, but there were some differences in the focus of the bullying, the perceived or known motives for the bullying, and some of the ways the bullying was experienced.

So certainly, many similarities, but some unique factors that lead me to believe that a one-size-fits-all approach to combating cyberbullying might not work to eliminate all instances of online homophobia and transphobia.  So, I think more research needs to be conducted with various groups (including members of the LBGTQ+ community) to determine if there are specialized needs or differences in the ways they experience online victimization if such actions are ever to be fully addressed.

4. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Aynsley.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Ph.D. Candidate, Criminology, Simon Fraser University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: November 15, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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