A new report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) titled Girls and Gangs: Improving Our Understanding and Ability to Respond looks at the experiences of girls involved in gang activity and provides recommendations for stakeholders to better help gang-involved girls.
“Girls in gangs have experienced many types of marginalization and these experiences should be taken into consideration when developing and providing services for them,” according to the report.
The report provides data from interviews with researchers, outreach workers, former gang members and 114 gang-involved girls. Interviews were conducted in eight California cities by NCCD staff. Questions were focused on girls’ membership in a gang, gang-related activities and any efforts to leave or quit participating in gang activity.
According to the study, key factors driving gang-involvement were family influences and family history. In fact, 87 percent of participants reported having at least one gang-involved family member. Further, peers and romantic relationships influenced participants to begin or to stay involved in gang activity. Many participants reported joining or being forced to join a gang in order to keep their partners.
“Participants often described their gang as providing a sense of family and a place where they felt accepted,” the report said.
Neighborhood environment facilitated girls’ involvement in gangs, according to the report. Participants reported that location caused them to be associated with gangs and eventually become involved in gangs. One participant recalled that “little kids” growing up would eventually became gang members in the future. Joining a gang was not a one-time decision for many participants but rather a result of gradual steps.
Findings further showed that participants had high levels of trauma due to witnessing violence and loss of important relationships. The report found that 86 percent of girls witnessed violence as part of a gang, and 76 percent of girls lost an important relationship due to death.
Maturing out and desiring a better lifestyle were key reasons for many girls’ departures from gang activity. Interviews also found that girls often feared being in contact with the justice system again. Strategies used by participants to leave gang activity were avoiding direct action with gang-involved peers and minimizing conversations with the group.
The Girls and Gangs report offers specific recommendations to stakeholders committed to helping gang-involved girls. An immediate change authors urge stakeholders and organizations to apply is using flexible and respectful terminology when talking to girls.
Other recommendations include implementing mental health services for youth who experienced trauma and services that can support young mothers.
Lastly, the report encourages stakeholders to design programs with a framework that builds on girls’ strengths, such as resiliency, independence, communication skills and intelligence, to empower young women and foster positive youth development.
Read the executive summary of the report here.