While once upon a time, girls might have been made of sugar, spice, and everything nice, recent reports from police, court records, and the files of community social workers, suggests that girls are also made of violent inclinations, and are subject to abuse when they chose to join into the local gang. Indeed, according to a Los Angeles Times report, female gang participation is on the rise, and unwilling to be mere wallflowers, the girls who are joining today’s gangs are increasingly displaying more violent behavior and criminal participation within the gang. According to the Department of Justice, thousands of females comprise upwards of a quarter of all gang membership on the streets of major cities across America. Have you met the Gangster Girl?
What is the big allure for young women looking for entrée into this misogynistic, male dominated world? Once accepted into this violent culture, what roles do these young women play, and most importantly, how parents, school officials, counselors, and police can recognize the signs of young women who are likely to fall prey to a gang member’s coercive charm? Finally, what steps can we take, as a community, to ensure that our young women have available resources so that they do not fall into the slippery slope of gang affiliation? Bottom line…girls and gangs are now a thing.
Reasons Why Girls Join Gangs
Studies suggest that girls who join the ranks of area gangs do so for many of the exact same reasons as their male counterparts. Typically cited as reasons for galvanizing girl gang membership are a poor home life, attempts to find a personal identity, and a desire for social interaction and a sense of belonging to a larger group according to current and former female gang members. Additionally, in poor urban sections of town, the home lives of these girls are generally characterized as dysfunctional, so the prospect of a family “environment” as demonstrated by membership in a gang, can serve as a proxy home life that, on the surface, may appear far more fulfilling than their actual families at home.
For many of the young women who reflect back on their lives before they joined a gang, they report that they were loners who were barely connected to their fellow classmates and neighborhood peer groups. Clearly, with a dysfunctional home life and little social interaction to tie you to a stable social institution, the acceptance that young women find in gangs is truly refreshing. According to a sociological study aimed at arriving at girl’s motivations for joining gangs, the overwhelming response is that they were looking for friends.
Luring Girls into Gangs
Like most predators, gang leaders are adept at singling out vulnerable girls for recruitment into their gangs. As mentioned, many of these girls come from broken and dysfunctional homes, which make them ripe targets for recruitment into the gang. Relying on the girl’s low self-esteem, charismatic gang leaders often lure young women into the gang lifestyle by enticing them with nice clothes and jewelry, drugs and alcohol, love and attention, and protection and a place to live. Once ensnared into that lifestyle, young women find it exceedingly difficult to extricate themselves from the gang life. Gang members looking to recruit young girls into their world rely on a myriad of devices and artifices to gain the girl’s trust
Like all predators, the promises of the gang leader are designed to trap the unwitting prey in a snare so tight that she cannot get out once she realizes the full depths of her predicament. Getting out of a gang is far more difficult than it was to get in, and gang members use fear, violence, and intimidation to ensure that their female gang members stay in line and under control.
The Roles of Girls in Gangs
Unfortunately, beyond finding friendship and camaraderie, female gang membership entails a myriad of roles that places them at higher risks than boys in the exact same gang. As mentioned, while female gang membership is on the rise, an urban gang is still a man’s world with female gang members typically playing a supporting or auxiliary role. Additionally, the misogynistic mindset of most male gang members puts the girl members of the gang in a vulnerable position subject to sexual and physical abuse by other game members. They are also given the dangerous jobs such as transporting drugs or weapons; the idea being that girls are less likely to be stopped and searched by suspicious law enforcement officers. Additionally, girl gang members are routinely expected to have sex with other gang members even if they do not want to participate. As such, incidents of unwanted pregnancies, rape, and contraction of STDs are frequent occurrences among girl gang members.
In addition, all gang members are expected to add to the gang’s coffers, so girl gang members are also required to serve as lookouts during the commission of crimes, steal, and serve as strippers and prostitutes for the gang.
The Rise in Violence and Criminality among Girls in Gangs
The truth is, these gangs operate in a violent subculture that acts as a draw to members, both male and female, who are seeking protection form gangs outside of their immediate neighborhood. The collective safety of a violent girl gang fights is seen as preferable to “walking scared” in the neighborhood where everyone takes you for a target.
In poor urban areas, joining a gang is seen as much as an economic move as a safety precaution. While living in an impoverished section of the city, all gang members view dealing drugs as a legitimate way to escape the grinding poverty of their neighborhoods. Of course, concomitant with building a drug trade, the gang needs to defend that trade, and frequent explosions of violence punctuate the drug trade on inner city streets.
Female gangster girls are as much a part of this battle as their male counterparts. According to at least one sociological study, female involvement in violent criminal behavior is on the rise. While one study pointed out that “many girls will use a gun, most girls are often found brandishing a knife or resorting to fistfight to resolve disputes. That being said however, the new breed of female gang members does not shy away from pulling the trigger when the need arises to defend their gang’s interests.
Particular Risks Associated with Girls Gang Membership
The thug life is a dangerous one at the best of times, but girl gang members are at particular risk owing to their vulnerable position within the gang’s hierarchy. Ironically, while many girls join gangs as a form of protection, they are joining a group that puts the girl’s interests below that of the gang and their new home is anything but safe.
Girls in gangs find it very difficult to extricate themselves from potentially harmful situations once the gang leader has ensnared them in his control. Girls in gangs run the risk of getting beat up, sexually assaulted, or arrested. As mentioned, many gangs put their female members in the danger zone by demanding that serve as mules in the transportation of guns and drugs, which have the potential of destroying their lives if caught by the police.
Keeping Girls out of Harm’s Way
According to a study by a Great Britain-based think tank, young female’s involvement in gang culture can have a deleterious effect on girl’s educational attainment. One teacher told the survey,”We can’t compete with the attraction of fast cars, sex, and drugs.”
That being said however, schools, families, and social workers need to strive harder to compete with the attraction of fast cars, sex, and drugs to help stem the tide of young women joining gangs. The key finding in the study suggested that prevention efforts should focus on helping young women stay in school, avoid the pitfalls of substance abuse and abusive boyfriends, while delaying early sexual activity and the risk of teenage pregnancies.
To further buttress their findings, the study suggested ways of going out into the community to find at-risk girls in danger of falling into the maelstrom of gang life. Some recommendations call for social workers to be emplaced in major trauma units to help identify and counsel at risk girls in gang-infested areas. Additionally, the report calls for community policing efforts designed to team officers with voluntary organizations that work to help the girlfriends of arrested and incarcerated gang members make their escape from the gang life.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that nobody knows exactly how big the problem is actually. Some suggest that the perceived threat of gang life on young girls is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to identifying who is at risk of joining a gang and falling into the destructive patterns that can have far reaching circumstances on the young woman’s life.
Drawing these girl gangs back form the abyss that gang life represents must be a community effort designed to present meaningful alternatives to life in a gang, which includes kindling an abiding interest in education, and inculcating a sense of purpose in the young woman that will help to steer her away from the deadly influences of the local neighborhood gang.
The social phenomenon of girl gang membership is not going away, and all indications suggest that the problem is slated to get worse before it gets better. Responding proactively is the key to successful interventions in these matters, and a proactive response must come from the home, school, and community for there to be any chance of success in turning back the scourge of female gang membership. While the problem is largely hidden by artifice or design, the solution is found by turning the spotlight onto the problem to arrive at a cogent solution.