Women in gangs are often been perceived as less threatening than their male counterparts and do not much as much scrutiny by the police. Often shootings and violence are usually associated with males and that is where police tend to focus their attention.
As a result, being a female gang member cuts both ways. Often females are less likely to face prosecution, in part because they are perceived as not being part of the gang leadership structure and likely more vulnerable to being influenced by other gang members. When in reality they are often at greater risk of being victims of violence or gang activity.
As police investigations have revealed, often through wiretap investigations, the roles of women are expanding in gangs. They are more active in gang leadership roles, they more active in recruiting and grooming new gang members, they have trusted positions in money laundering activities, but still continuing to face physical and sexual abuse.
The Changing Role of Women in Gangs
Women in gangs have traditionally been more gang-affiliated than gang members. For the most part, they were more so the girlfriends of gang members rather than official members. Today, however, female membership is growing with nearly 10% of gang members being women.
Because gang-affiliated women weren’t as closely monitored by police, they began to be used in certain gang activities:
- Drug Mules
- Firearms Carriers
- Prostitution Recruitment
This approach was fairly successful because not only were police not monitoring the women as closely, but the police were also more interested in arresting the actual gang members. With less heat on the women associated with gangs, their roles began to grow.
Over the past decade, involvement in assaults and illegal weapons charges are on the rise. Female membership has also been growing but remains a small fraction overall.
Risks for Women in Gangs
Even with female gang membership and activity rising, women make up only a small percentage. While seldom are they the focus of police attention which means they are less likely to be arrested the lack of attention increases their chances of being victims and reduces their options for getting out.
Female gang members and gang-affiliated women typically have less to fear from the police than their male counterparts. But they remain at greater risk, especially from gang members both their own and rival gangs.
Women involved with gangs are at greater risk of abuse and trauma, being victimized by their own and rival gangs.
Physical & Sexual Abuse
Women in gangs have a high risk of physical and sexual abuse. Many women who get involved with gangs already have a history of being the victims of physical and/or sexual abuse.
They may join or become affiliated with a gang for protection or to create a family unit. If the cycle of abuse is continued by the gang, it becomes more difficult to escape from the cycle. Low self-esteem and self-harm are common.
Gang-affiliated women show more signs and symptoms of long-term trauma compared to their male counterparts. There is an elevated risk of PTSD and secondary trauma. Gang members who have been the victims or perpetrators of violent crime experience levels of Post-Traumatic Stress on par with soldiers.
Studies show that women living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are already at a greater risk of experiencing PTSD symptoms. Gang involvement further increases these risks, with more likelihood of witnessing, perpetrating, or having friends/family members involved in violence.
Harder to Get Out
Women in gangs being a minority can make them virtually invisible to community support. They do not have access to as many exit programs or community groups as males who want to get out of gangs.
As a result, it becomes more difficult and dangerous for women to try to leave gangs. Often they feel safer getting incarcerated than trying to get out. Having a criminal record can affect the rest of their lives making it more difficult to secure jobs and education, pushing them deeper into the same vicious cycle.
Criminal Defence Lawyer for Gang & Youth Offences
William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer experienced in gang and youth offences. He can help guide you through the legal process, helping you understand your charges, your options, and the potential outcomes.
Contact William Jaksa for a consultation.