Girls In Gangs

More and more teenage girls are joining street gangs, and their roles are becoming increasingly powerful.

Researchers in the past have either ignored or misrepresented the role of female gang members. Therefore very little is known about female gang involvement, particularly the factors which motivate adolescent girls to join gangs. Much of the research in this area is characterized by a gender bias with researchers typically ignoring this population or, when they do take them into account, utilizing male gang members as their source of information about females. According to Curry and Decker, authors of "Confronting Gangs; Crime and Community", an accurate depiction of the teenage girls involved with gangs could help explain the societal issues that cause young people to join these groups in the first place.

Early research by Thrasher, Campbell and others convinced experts that female gang members were nothing more than "sexual objects" to be controlled by the male gang members. Thrasher's survey in l936 was the first truly large and intensive formal academic study on gang members. The study involved 1,313 separate gangs, however, he abruptly dismissed the girl gang members stating that participation in the gang culture for the young women was auxiliary in nature. In other words, their involvement was purely for social and sexual activities, which at that time may very well have been the case. Since then, many scholars have used Thrasher's findings as a basis for formulating additional research on girls and gangs.

However more recent research, as well as statistics have shown that not only is female gang membership on the rise, but so is their involvement in gang-related criminal activities. Girls are no longer just appendages to male gangs, and there is some indication that girls are beginning to form their own gangs as well. Many male gangs allow females to join their ranks, but others are exclusively female. These all-female gangs formed in reaction to the sexism and gender in equality found in male dominated gangs. Frustrated by the absence of equal rights and dissatisfied with risking their lives without voice or influence, girls formed their own groups. Other research indicates that for a long time girls had little success gaining status in the gang world. This may still be partially true today, and may even be the reason for separate girl gangs. Females in gangs today are no longer concerned solely with the impression they make on boys, although their problems are often gender related (i.e., sexual abuse, male violence, inequality and pregnancy.)

Like males, girls who join gangs are interested in laying claim to an area and in exerting power and control over this domain in order to achieve status, which is a necessary component of belonging to a gang. Thus female gang-affiliation has grown and is in itself an established entity to be dealt with. In fact, according to Curry and Decker, among law enforcement agencies that reported male and female membership data in a 1992 survey, gang membership was estimated to be nearly 6 percent female.

Joan Moore's research on female gang membership was centered primarily on the motivating factors in female gang membership and activities. According to Moore, the female gang-affiliated members come from the same dysfunctional environment and harmful types of homes as the male members, however the girls were much more expressive about this. They also expressed that joining a gang was like a path to liberation from the stereotypical roles they would be forced into in traditional society. However, many female gang members experience severe problems in the gang including, sexual exploitation and violence.

So why would any girl want to be involved in a gang? Experts say some females are lured into gangs by the promise of financial reward, identity and status, but they are also more likely to hold down a respectable job at the same time that they are involved in gang activity, which makes them look less suspicious. If girls are part of a male gang, they often are asked to commit crimes at the gang leader's bidding because many law-enforcement officers may be more inclined to let girls get away with more criminal activity, simply because of their gender.

Females seem to put up with a great deal of mistreatment by their gang leaders, primarily because many of the girls come from extremely exploitive and abusive backgrounds. When the gang leaders treat them poorly, they think this is normal behavior. Other girl gangsters don't want to be subject to the authority of the boys. They join girl gangs because they have become tired of being the ones committing the crimes, running the drugs and putting themselves in danger, while the males retain all of the power. Others from more traditional ethnic backgrounds want to form their own gangs to break out of inherited second-class-citizen roles that their mothers play in traditional society.

A number of researchers have arrived at solutions to the growing female gang problem. These solutions include program strategies such as community organizations, social intervention, opportunities provision, suppression, and organizational development. One study concluded that although suppression and social intervention were the most widely used strategies, strategies of community organization and social opportunities were most effective. However in order to truly protect female youth from this growing problem, it is important to find the underlying causes that attract youth to join gangs and to find solutions to prevent and intervene in the lives of active and potential female gang members.

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