When people think of gangs and gangsters, they often think of young males. While females may be part of gang culture, they are often viewed as being in the periphery. In many ways, this view of female gang membership is correct. For example, females that are affiliated with gangs have oftentimes been reduced to sexual objections, being used for the gratification of gang members, as a way to lure new recruits (Firmin 2009, p. 15). Furthermore, female sexuality has traditionally been seen as a way to ensnare rival gang members, so that female gang members and females associated with gangs have often acted as spies infiltrating rival gang networks (Aabbad 2012, p.272). However, the traditional view of girls as sexual accessories and playthings for gang members does not reflect the reality of the modern-day gang situation. While women still face significant marginalization and sexual violence within the context of the street gang, gang expectations have also expanded to encompass and embrace a larger role for women within the structure of the gang. For example, there is evidence that, in some gangs, girls are participating in hard-core crimes such as robbery, rape, and murder (Young 2009, p. 225). In fact, the escalation of female violence in the gang setting cannot be ignored. However, the increase in female violence is not proportionate with the increase in female gang membership, suggesting that girls and women are drawn to gangs, not only due to criminality, but also for myriad other social reasons. For girls from depressed or dangerous areas, gang membership not only comes with significant risks, but also with significant potential benefits (Batchelor 2009, p. 413). In many ways, girls in gangs experience the same expansion of familial camaraderie as boys in gangs, which can be essential to survival in rough neighborhoods or if a girl lacks an adequate family structure. Despite the risks inherent with engaging in a criminal organization, the fact that gangs can offer some benefits to their members helps explain the growing population of people joining gangs in areas that had traditionally resisted gang affiliation, such as South Wales (Maher 2009, p. 180). Taken as a whole, this information indicates that the nature of gang membership is changing for girls and for boys. Girls are taking more active roles in gangs, which means that they are engaging in more overt and violent criminal activity. However, many girls in or affiliated with gangs are still treated as sexual chattel, to be used by gang members and as tools for recruitment and training. As a result, women who are affiliated with gangs are exposed to a high risk of violence, particularly sexual violence. In order to understand why these young women would accept the risks that are inherent with gang membership, it is critical that researchers understand the benefits, or at least the perceived benefits, to the girls from such membership.
I have found Google Scholar to be the most comprehensive internet library search service because of its ability to search multiple databases in a single search. Therefore, I chose Google Scholar to conduct this search. I went to www.scholar.google.com and entered my search terms. Having chosen girls and gangs as my topic, and interested in recent scholarship that focused on the United Kingdom, I typed "girls and gangs UK" into my search bar. Then, I limited my time frame, limiting myself to research that had been published in the period between 2009-2015. I included both articles and books in the search results, knowing that book chapters can sometimes reveal significant leads for peer reviewed articles. The search returned 11,700 results. Had I been using a smaller database, such a large number of results would have been unwieldy. However, I find that Google Scholar does an adequate job of sorting articles by relevancy. By looking over the first four pages of results, I was able to locate six articles that I believed would be helpful to my research question. More importantly, I found links and references to background books and articles that could not only provide insight into girls in gangs in the modern United Kingdom, but also more generalized knowledge about gangs and Europe.
From the large number of search results, I was able to select a smaller sub-group based upon Google Scholar's built-in relevancy search algorithm. In other words, the books and articles cited near the top were most likely to be relevant to my search. From the first several pages of search results, I was able to narrow the initial 11,700 results down to a more manageable 50-60 results. I then scanned their title information and the small blurb available to help guide my further research. For example, many of the results seemed both promising and informative, but were chapters from book or other forms of publications, rather than from journals. After determining whether sources were journals, I looked up the relevant journals to determine whether or not they were peer reviewed. Then, I scanned abstracts to determine whether or not the articles would be relevant to my research goals.
Aabbad, H. 2012. 'Sexual exploitation: The use of peers for recruitment', British Journal of School Nursing, vol. 7, no. 6, pp. 272-274.
While sometimes viewed as social groups, it is important to treat gangs as criminal organization that may interact with, influence, or be influenced by other local criminal behavior. For example, local gangs play an active role in the recruitment and grooming of young sex workers. This article explains the interaction between gangs and the sex trade, specifically examining how gangs recruit female members for usage in sex-linked criminal activities.
Batchelor, S. 2009. 'Girls, gangs and violence: Assessing the evidence', Probation Journal, vol. 56, no. 4, pp. 399-414.
This article focuses on two of the primary challenges of examining gang violence and women: 1) failure to adequately define what constitutes a gang; and 2) the fact that prior research on gangs has generally been conducted by men on male gang members. This research focuses on women and girls in gangs. It concludes that women may join gangs for different reasons than men, and that female gang membership may be based upon more prosocial reasons than male gang membership.
Bell, K. 2007. 'Gender and gangs: A quantitative comparison', Crime and Delinquency, vol. 55,
Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Bell examines whether males and females are drawn to gang membership for different reasons. Research already describes several risk factors for male gang membership including: community characteristics, parent-child relationships, and association with other gang members. The goal of this research was to determine whether the same risk factors also had predictive value in female gang membership. The research concluded that the following risk factors impacted male and female gang involvement in similar ways: parental social control, attachment and involvement, school safety, peer fighting, age, and race.
Firmin, C. 2009. 'Girls around gangs,' Safer Communities, vol. 8, no.2, pp. 14-16.
Firmin examines the roles played by female gang members in the modern UK, specifically examining the role that female gang members play in the violent interactions between gangs. She finds that while girls are playing an increasing role in the perpetration of violence and crime, it is male attitudes towards violence that continue to dominate gang interactions. The researcher concludes that male dominance in gangs contributes to the level of violence in gangs, making it more difficult to de-escalate inter-group rivalries.
Maher, J. 2009. 'Gangs? What gangs? Street-based youth groups and gangs in South Wales',
Contemporary Wales, vol. 22, no.1, pp.178-195.
This article focuses on street gangs as an emerging problem throughout the United Kingdom, focusing specifically on street gangs in South Wales. The article does not focus specifically on female involvement in these gangs, but looks at overall youth involvement in gangs. Unlike other research, the focus of this research does not begin with an assumption that youth involvement in gangs is necessarily detrimental and related to criminal activity. Instead, it investigates the relationship between gang involvement and youth criminal activity in an area outside of the cities where gang activity has a documented link to criminality. It specifically examined youth group involvement in South Wales, whether these youth groups could be considered gangs, and, when they could, profiled these gangs.
Young, T. 2009. 'Girls and gangs: Shemale gangsters in the UK?', Youth Justice, vol. 9, no.3,
This article focuses on the recent changes of public perceptions of the behavior of female gang members. It begins with an acknowledgement that females are becoming increasingly involved in the criminal activity committed by gangs. This criminal activity includes violent offenses including robbery, rape, and murder. While female gang members have become increasingly involved in violence, by examining the use of weapons by gang members, the researcher concludes that the shift from passive member to violent threat has not been complete among female street gang members. Instead, while violence among female gang members has risen, most female…