In regards to statistics and scope of data dealing with criminal records, female participation in gangs is constantly rising and displaying far more violent behavior in comparison with their male counterparts. Certainly, gender and psychological diversities should be taken into account while analyzing both male and female representatives of illegal bands though it is even more vital to find out the factors that pursuade people to join gangs. Thus, the comprehension of the reasons why girls decide to become part of a gang may be implemented in further investigation concerning juvenile crime prevention.
Basically, female participation in gangs is considered to be a well-known phenomenon at least for the last four centuries as long as “girls have been a part of gangs since the earliest accounts from New York in the early 1800s” (Campbell, 1991). Not being an innovation, female gangs are showing more violence these days as compared to the previous century, and their criminal activities are apparently on the rise. From social perspective, girls’ desicions to join criminal bands are partially evoked by unprivileged home life, constant failures in obtaining a desired self-esteem, searching for an identity, lack of socialization, poor living conditions, breakdowns, and family dysfunction. Therefore, those females who were lacking love inside home family are searching it outside trying to construct the so-called surrogate family reinforcing the idea in gang’s structure.
Consequently, young women may create a certain schemata of the gang as a source of providing them with a sense of power, acceptance, and recognition. Being one of the major motivations to participate in gangs, the sense of family is vividly exemplified in the gang members referring to one another as “homegirls” or “sisters” (Campbell, 1991). Besides, gang women often come from the conditions of extreme poverty and thus search for support and comfort they have been lacking outside the family. Surely, once having become a part of a new family, gang members can feel the sense of purpose and belonging. In addition, gang life is being glamorized through the means of modern media, which exposes a bright picture to the vulnerable young brain filled with excitement about the family concept, money, drugs, and a certain amount of power that gang members possess.
The age of female gang participants varies from eleven to the late thirties “with the majority between fourteen and twenty-five” (Nimmo, 2001). The gang involvement of teenagers under sixteen is determined by the fact of having been expelled from school. Those who come from poor socioeconomic surrounding, those who are neglected or abandoned, sexually or physically abused thus lacking attention and love are potential gang members. Being raised up in dysfunctional homes, children tend to consume drugs and alcohol either within or outside the gang in order to feel better and cope with stress in their own specific comprehension. Additionally, “economics plays an important role in an individual’s decision to join a gang” and a gang seems to become an “appealing alternative” to the rough struggle for life (Delaney, 2013).
As every hierarchically organized structure, the gang presupposes particular patterns of behavior and activities, thus a certain gang subculture preserves a code of ethics within the frames of the band. Responding to the cruelty of personal life path, gang members choose violence as a tool as far as “violence is the most immediately effective way of getting” power they lack in their lives (Nimmo, 2001). To become a participant of the gang, a newbie is to go through initiation rituals like “beat-in”, “blessed-in”, “sexed-in”, or whatever other rites.
Usually, the initiation is extremely humiliating and painful and is carried out for the “good” of the gang. The type of initiation is mainly determined by the gang leader. Besides mandating violence as the basis, the gang also indicates involvement in criminal activities. According to Delaney’s research, a female can be initiated into a gang through three primary ways; “one of them involves a roll-in” that is “a slang term for rolling dice”. A scholar distinguishes between the other two ways of initiation of “being jumped in” that mens being beaten by gang participants or being forced to commit a crime, “being blessed in”, and namely being “born in to the gang” (Delaney, 2013). Normally, as the general population of women, female gang representatives get pregnant and sometimes gain a status of motherhood negotiation caring for the baby, the next generation of the “family”.
Regarding pregnancy and motherhood as social markers that to some extent reduce the normal gang activity, less than 50% of gang pregnant members continue hanging out with the gang during the pregnancy period. In addition, having become mothers, approximately 20% of gangsters still hang out with the “family”. A positive effect of pregnancy is seen in the reduced drinking levels and drug use since the moment women discover they are pregnant. Nevertheless, young mothers slightly increase the level of drinking but to the mark that is below the previous level of consumption. Some gang mothers become more mature after having given birth to their children and start reconsidering their membership in the gang in a serious manner. Undoubtedly, expectant women want better and healthier life for their children and for themselves as they are creating a new family that differs from that within the gang frames (Hunt & Joe-Laidler, 2004).
Similarly to an organized crime group, a gang has its definite hierarchy with powerful leaders and faithful followers. The same situation occurs within female criminal world when some women possess more power and higher status that others. This sort of recognition is gained through an exceptional performance in gang life and is generally the prerogative of the male representatives as female gang members rarely hold status of their male counterparts though statistically being more violent. Nonetheless, women can substitute this exclusively male role with their own candidatures, though within a separate hierarchical group that is an all-female gang, which is mainly observed in prison surroundings. Additionally, independent female gangs are still few but increasing in number, and “there are more now than ever before” (Delaney, 2013).
The rapid growth of the quantity of women gangs and the intensification of cruelty inside these bands are predisposed by the fact that more and more women start committing crimes at the early age which is proved by recent international statistics of female delinquency. A delinquent can commit an individual crime; however, often delinquents may unite into gangs either prior to making an offence or afterwards when they are imprisoned.
From the historical and sociological perspective, female delinquency is seen as an integral part of the overall delinquency. Thus, a crime has certain features associated with social roles of women, their lifestyle and professional activities, biological and psycho-physiological characteristics, as well as the historically conditioned disposition of this phenomenon in the system of social relations. Alongside with the switch of social conditions and lifestyle of some women, changing their social roles, characters, and methods of criminal behavior get changed as well.
One of the most prominent criminological features of female delinquency is a relatively constant volume and level of crime which has a high tendency to increase. Throughout the past century, the volume of female delinquency has been 5 – 7 times lower than the corresponding rates of criminality among men taking around 10 – 15% of all crimes committed in some countries like Brazil, Jamaica, etc. However, at the beginning of the current century, there occurred the tendency of some growth in female delinquency (up to 3% per year) and the increase (up to 17 – 18%) in the number of women identified in the crimes. At the same time, the number of women arrested for committing serious crimes, has increased more than in 4 times. The growth rate of the number of female offenders is 2 – 3 times higher than the that among males (Ollus & Nevala, 2000).
Concerning the current status of female delinquency, some changes may be observed in both the structure and number of crimes. The statistics of the arrests number in the 2000s has increased by 158, which is almost three times more than the same rate for men. Although the number of women in prisons is still quite insignificant in comparison with men, the number of imprisoned women has increased 4 times since the 1980s (Ollus & Nevala, 2000).
Female involvement in criminal activity is not a new phenomenon; within the temporal frames, it reaches nearly the same time spot as that of their male counterparts. The above mentioned data stipulate the necessity to amend social politics in terms of addressing the issues of the rise of female gangs in the society.