Girls In Gangs

/ 22 May 2017

Young girls are increasingly being sucked into the macho and male-dominated world of gangs, but what is gang life really like from a female perspective?

As well as the general anxieties of gang life like fearing the police and attacks from enemy gangs there’s the added pressure of having to fit in with male gang members. At best this means girls struggle to prove themselves by doing the dirty work for the boys, and at worst this can drive girls to dangerous extremes.

Plus, because there are no rules in gang world, being a girl doesn’t stop them from being a target, and a relatively easy one at that.

Ex-gang member Nequela Whittaker, who features in episode 3 and who now runs a mentoring programme for young girls trying to escape gang life, helped us with the content of this article.

How do girls get into gangs?

Usually girls enter gang life when they’re still at school and often they get looped in by boyfriends who are already in gangs. Sometimes they might just fall into the wrong friendship groups.

What are girls’ roles in gangs?

Girls are very useful to male gang members, which is why many get exploited. Although there’s not much opportunity to climb the ranks, girls often have to prove themselves by doing a lot of the risky dirty work that nobody else wants to do. Girls often seem less suspicious to the authorities so are given tasks like hiding weapons, disposing of evidence and hiding drugs in their homes.

They’re also useful for selling drugs as they don’t get stopped in their cars as much by police. Some gang girls nowadays start off selling drugs for male members but end up running their own business.

Girls have to look and behave in a masculine way because, no matter how deep into gang life girls get, behaving like their male counterparts is still the only way to win respect.

What are the dangers?

Girls can be seen as easy targets by opposing gang members so their safety is very much at risk. Whether they’re targeted by gangs who want to steal their drugs or for inter-gang revenge, it’s a dangerous life to lead.

Many girls in gangs take part in extreme violence, using dangerous weapons and attacking individual girls from other gangs on mass. Violence is normalised and, in a world where girls feel especially vulnerable to attack, the weapons they’re using are getting more dangerous and their attacks more vicious.

But it’s not just rival gangs – there’s danger much closer to home. Young girls are especially vulnerable to pressures from gang members who they look up to and admire, especially when the pressure is coming from a boyfriend. Their older gang ‘boyfriend’ can become their pimp, making them prostitute themselves and then taking the money, as we see in Cherelle’s storyline.

Girls are often manipulated into having sex with male gang members. Often, if something goes wrong, they may be told they have to have sex with someone as a result. They can be mislead into thinking it’s only one person they have to have sex with and lead somewhere, only to discover that there are more boys ready and waiting to join in. There are also specific roles within gangs for girls who recruit other girls to have sex with gang members.

Giving into this kind of pressure is often easier than putting up a fight and the danger is that this pattern of behaviour becomes normalised. These girls may feel not only that they have no other option, but may blame themselves for getting involved in the first place (which is all part of the manipulation). This kind of sexual violation is unfortunately commonplace.

I’m a girl in a gang who wants to get out… what can I do?

While gang life is generally traumatic in the long-run, girls get an especially sour deal and are often completely exploited. Sometimes it’s hard to see that you’re being exploited when you’re so used to being treated in a certain way and it’s become normalised, but it’s important to recognise that you’re worth more than what you’re getting – whether that’s being put in scary situations to cover other peoples’ tracks or used for sex.

Childline and The Mix have great helplines and resources if you feel you need to talk to someone and St Giles Trust and Gangsline run great services to support gang members who want to get out.

If you’re afraid you’re being sexually exploited, NSPCC has a great information page and resources specifically about sexual exploitation. They also run a special service for girls between 11-19 who are at risk of being or have been sexually exploited – click here for more information.

There are also books written by former gang members that may help. Try Sour: My Story by Tracey Miller and “Street Girl” by Nequela Whittaker, which follows Nequela’s personal story as an ex-gang member from Brixton.


St Giles Trust