How safe are you or your children?
By Mel James
Over 30,000 gangs and 800,000 active gang members were active across the USA in 2007.
This figure soared from 731,500 in 2002, and 750,000 in 2004. In 1999, Hispanics accounted for 47% of all gang members, Blacks 34%, Whites 14%, and 7% Asians.
In the 21st century, are we facing further growth of gangs sprouting up across America?
Children with gang associations across the globe face a subculture that provides endless false promises, and a life expectancy of 18-23 years of age.
GANG LIFE - USA
The stereotypical perception that gangs operate in small, isolated pockets of society is a myth, and even socio-economic factors offer little protection to your family and friends.
I spoke with youth professionals across the US to gain an insight into the world of gangs, and to listen the opinions and experiences of young girls affected by gang culture in the US.
Young girls in the US typically join gangs for a variety of reasons, ranging from wanting to ‘belong’, to being attracted to a current gang member. Once a decision to join has been made, the girl must choose her mode of entry. Two equally horrific, yet typical, entry routes are:
“Girls can be beaten or sexed into a gang."
"Many opted for being sexed in, but they enter as the lowest form of a gang member.
I have an example where this went bad. A girl chose to be sexed in and was raped numerous times.
She was in pain, and after so many guys, she pushed away a gang member. He placed a revolver in her vagina and pulled the trigger”
– Youth Probation Officer – USA, September 2010
To be ‘beaten’ or ‘jumped’ into a gang, a girl must physically fight other gang members for a set amount of time. This ritual has the potential to result in serious injury, even death; or
The other way in, which many young girls opt for, is to be “sexed” – potential gang members often think this will be easier than being beaten but quickly discover that this actually involves being raped multiple times, causing a wide range of injuries. This can lead to heartbreaking results, both physically and mentally. Girls are sometimes even forced to have unprotected sex with gang members who are known to be HIV positive.
Joining a gang directly is not the only route of entry, and it's common for girls to become victims of gang violence through direct or indirect association with members.
There have been many cases of young women being raped by a rival gang because of dating a gang member, or being trafficked or prostituted by men they have become involved with.
“In June, 1992 Victor Garcia, age 17, was convinced that he could join the gang if the gang could have sex with his girlfriend. Garcia agreed with this unique arrangement for his gang initiation ceremony in Chicago. The girl was subsequently lured to a party where the gang members lay in wait. She was then physically assaulted and repeatedly raped by four gang members until the following day when she was let go” (Roper, 1993: p. 11).
Many parents are under the illusion that being part of a higher socio-economic group will safeguard their children from street violence. There are many tragic cases across the US which have proved that all girls have the potential to be at risk.
Kristin was the daughter of a school district superintendent in an affluent family.
At the age of 20, Kristin began associating with known gang members in the Chicago area. After purchasing drugs from the gang, she began to spend more time with the members, and had sexual relationships with a number of the male members.
As Kristin gained confidence in her status, the female gang members began to feel resentful of her presence. One fateful night, a female gang member insulted Kristin, who then suggested that the gang leaders preferred her company to the other female members.
Kristin's fate was sealed. An assault began where Kristin was taken to a basement, beaten, threatened, and eventually murdered.
“Authorities say that, on April 17, following accusations that Ponquinette was trying to steal the boyfriends of some female gang members, she was savagely beaten, then tied with wire to a manhole cover and thrown-still alive-into the Calumet Sag Channel. Her body was found downstream on April 29". Chicago Tribune.1992.
LIVING WITH THE VIOLENCE
Living with such violence and fear on a daily basis often becomes unbearably, mentally abusive, and there comes a point when a young girl may begin to regret her choices. This happens when a member becomes pregnant, or witnesses a particularly brutal act.
On July 13, 2003, Brenda Paz, a 17-year-old former gang member-turned- informant, was found stabbed on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Virginia. Paz was killed for informing the FBI about Mara Salvatrucha’s alleged criminal activities. Two of Salvatrucha’s former friends were later convicted of the murder. Tragically, Brenda was pregnant at the time.
Brenda’s case is not an isolated one. Fear of retribution is often why young women do not leave a gang when they become pregnant. Many favor placing their child with extended family, and keeping a physical and emotional distance between themselves and their son or daughter.
“Those girls that do choose to keep their babies – often those babies grow up to also be gang members” Probation Officer – USA
Despite government and non-profit programs, many who work with at-risk youth feel that deep family ties to certain gangs within the Unites States is too ingrained to break.
“There are about 5 or 6 generations in this community. This will never be changed. When you try to tell a kid they are wrong and they look at you and say, "What? My grandpa rolls that way." – Anon
While gangs continue to thrive, government and non-profits continue to educate and work with young women to break this cycle. SafeWorld will continue to explore this issue in all corners of the world.
We hope that by discussing and opening doors on this closed society, we will increase awareness and help save at-risk young women from dangerous gang culture.
Females and Gangs: Sexual Violence, Prostitution, and Exploitation - George W. Knox, Ph.D