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Female involvement in gangs
The academic literature largely ignores
the role that females play in gangs and sees
gang membership as a male phenomenon,
thus fostering a major myth that gang mem-
bership (juvenile and adult) is the main
domain of males. Indeed, there is a wide-
spread myth that females are not involved
in gang activities in the Caribbean. This,
however, is rapidly changing as there is
now an explosion of girls in gangs as well
as female-led gangs operating either with-
in all-male gangs or by themselves.
Presently, there are a number of theories
which explain male participation in gangs.
Explanatory variables include poor econom-
ic conditions (Perkins 1987; Zatz 1987), drug
use and marketing (Molidar 1996; Spergel
and Curry 1990), family dysfunction (Mol-
idar 1996; Teilmann and Landry 1981), peer
pressure (Campbell 1984) and poor self-es-
teem (Huff 1990; Chesney-Lind 1989).
In contrast, the theories relating to female
gang members are less comprehensive. Such
theories consistently attempt to explain
female gang membership by arguing that
females who join gangs may be socially inept,
physically unattractive or psychologically
impaired (Bowker and Klein 1983; Rosenbaum
1991). Additional explanations for female
gang involvement were that such persons
are socially maladjusted, came from broken
and unhappy homes, and did not relate well
to the opposite sex (Spergel 1992).
In Girls and Gangs in Trinidad, Wallace
(2013) debunks that myth and succinctly
shows that girl gangs and girls in gangs or
acting as gang affiliates is an ever-increasing
phenomenon in the Caribbean.
In the UK, Louisa Peacock (2014) writing
on Girl gangsters in the UK said that young
women are often portrayed as victims in
gangs, but a growing number of experts
acknowledge the rise of the 'gangster girl'
According to a senior prison official who
was interviewed in 2013, an estimated 30%
of the female inmates at local correctional
facilities in Trinidad and Tobago are incar-
cerated for gang-related crimes.
There are a number of identifiable roles
that girls take up within gangs:
• Gangster girls: young women who adopt
male personas within gangs;
• Female family members of gang members;
• Wifeys/girlfriends: young women in a
recognised relationship with gang-in-
• Baby-mothers: young women who have
children with gang-involved males;
• Links: young women who are associated
through 'casual' sex with one or more
members of the gang.
• Agent provocateurs
• Provision of alibis and safe houses
• Tools of escape
• Provision of sensitive and confidential
• Put victims in place (for victimisation)
• Why do children join groups/gangs?
PULLS AND PUSHES.
Pulls pertain to the attractiveness of the
gang. Gang membership can enhance pres-
tige or status among friends, especially girls
(for boys) and provide opportunities to be
Social, economic, and cultural forces push
many adolescents in the direction of gangs.
HOW GANGS FUNCTION-
• Type of gang members
• Hard-core members (most violent crim-
inal members of the gang).
• Marginal members (often referred to as
"wannabes"). These members drift in and
out of the gang according to their needs.
HOW DO GANGS DISPLAY THEIR IDENTITY
Identifying gangs is a difficult enterprise.
The key is to be able to identify what is gang
specific and what is simply representative
of current adolescent fashion trends. This is
not easy. Simply providing a list of visual
factors that contribute to gang identity does
not necessarily help in describing what a
gang member looks like. It is erroneous to
assume that just knowing these factors will
lead to a clear identification of gang mem-
bers. Identity is not a static event and it is
more complex than just reading the signs.
The boundaries between gang style and street
style are blurred, the more so as gang iden-
tifiers are quickly absorbed into fashion.
What was once a clear expression of gang
membership may now be a popular style
worn by many, thus dulling the original
Gangs show unity especially in times of
conflict by sticking together as a unit, pro-
viding alibis, hiding gang member from police,
protection of gang member and family mem-
bers, provision of monies, transportation,
food, clothing, women, and firearms.
GANG RECRUITMENTS TACTICS/
Gang recruitments tactics
Gangs are always looking for recruits. Older
members may hang out near your school or
other places where young people go to see
who they might attract. Active members who
are in school are on the lookout for students
who may be by themselves, or who are being
picked on or bullied, or who cause discipline
For a long time gangs have used this tech-
nique to recruit new members. They create
glorified myths about the gang that are very
attractive to young recruits, and very often
these myths become the foundation for young
aspirations. The most powerful of these trap-
pings, however, is the promise of money,
sex, and glamour. The symbols of the gang
(the graffiti, hand signs, colours, tattoos, etc.)
create a visual attraction for young people,
they realise that with these symbols they are
part of something organised and powerful.
Parties are also very useful ways for recruit-
ers to seduce young people into the gang.
At the party, they have fun, get high, and
believe the rhetoric they are bombarded with.
Subterfuge is a misrepresentation of what
the gang really is and what it stands for.
Recruiters use lies and schemes to convince
the youth that it really isn't a gang, it's a
club or it is really a group of close friends
that have to protect themselves against a
powerful enemy. Another tact taken by
recruiters is to identify latchkey and other
kids who may not have a good family life
and convince them that they aren't loved
and that the club is there for them, the "club"
will love them.
Often gang members will do a favour or
make a loan of something to a prospective
recruit and demand they give loyalty as pay-
back. Often, these favours come in the form
of protection. Girls are sometimes used to
promote that sense of obligation.
Forced recruitment is an age old technique,
used most often by large gangs in chronic
gang cities. This technique is used most often
during times of gang conflict, or when there
is a need to generate dues money. Coercion
is usually accomplished by threats, but phys-
ical beatings are used as well. There have
been many deaths as a result of individuals
refusing to join the gang. Coercion can mean
that a family member is threatened as well.
For many reasons, youth will make contact
with gang members and ask to join the gang.
The reasons are many and not always because
the individual sees the gang as glamorous.
The reason may be one of necessity, money,
protection etc.. The reasons may be a com-
bination of all of the trappings mentioned
above. The range of reasons for a youth to
join a gang is very wide and does not always
mean that he has joined the gang openheart-
6. PEER PRESSURE
Gangs target youths that are easily talked
into doing work for the gang. Current gang
members will often use peer pressure or fear
and intimidation tactics to get others to join
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Dr Wendell C. Wallace- Criminologist, UWI
lecturer, Attorney at Law and Author
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