Influences: Why Females Join Gangs

As previously discussed, female gang involvement has been increasing through the decades. Deciding to become a gang member is a huge step for any girl or woman to take.  There is no one specific reason, but instead several different motivating factors for females to join gangs.  These factors include economic stresses, family stress, and a need to belong.  Understanding the reasons why females join gangs in the first place will cause a better understanding of female gang involvement as a whole.

During the late eighties and early nineties a job shortage gripped America’s inner cities.  Factories and industries began closing their doors which made it difficult for the inner city youth to find gainful employment.  This led to the establishment of a very productive underground economy.  The flourishing underground economy attracted gangs and increased gang membership (Moore, 2001).  In addition to the loss of many jobs, significant changes to the welfare system made it incredibly difficult for inner city members to provide for their families.  This especially hit women hard who often became pregnant at an early age.  Gangs then were seen as positive organizations that benefited the struggling community.  They offered resources and protection to community members, more specifically females who feared their neighborhood (Moore, 2001).  The struggling economy and inability to find a job made gang life very attractive to both males and females.  Economic stress often translated into a strain on family life.

               Young women may join gangs for a number of reasons, but Archer and Grascia (2006) ask the question, “Is the female juvenile a victim first?” (p. 38).  To some people, it is inconceivable to think that young girls would put themselves in a situation that involves such a high rate of risk.  Most of the girls that do become affiliated with a gang are from broken homes, where they have previously been a victim of a crime.  In 1998, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) performed a study on young girls in the California juvenile justice system to gain information on victimization before becoming a juvenile offender.  Surprisingly, 92% of the female offenders interviewed said that they had been abused emotionally, physically, or sexually before becoming a juvenile offender (Archer & Grascia, 2006).  Although a majority of girls are abused before joining a gang, there are also many that participate in gang activities for other reasons.  There are four elements discussed by Archer and Grascia (2006) that are typical characteristics of individuals who are most likely to become delinquent and then possibly become part of a gang.  The four elements include (1) attachment to family, peers, etc; (2) commitment to society; (3) involvement in traditional activities such as going to school or work; and (4) belief in moral values.  The following factors affecting female gang membership branch off these four key elements. 

One of the greatest factors of female gang involvement seems to be the relationship a young woman has with friends and also male gang members (Archer & Grascia, 2006).  Another factor that influences young women to become part of a gang is the protection that membership may offer to them around their neighborhood.  Young women value this protection because they may feel threatened by rival gang members or other non-gang men in the environment (Miller, 1998).  Females also sought gang membership in hopes of gaining respect from o

thers, especially their parents and rival peers (Archer & Grascia, 2006).  A finding by Wang (2000) stated that whereas more males join gangs to make money, females are more likely to become associated with a gang for emotional support (Wang, 2000).  This statement was contradicted by Walker-Barnes and Mason in 2001, who found that an influence for females to join a gang is the possibility of committing illegal activities that could lead to money-making opportunities.  It was also found that the idea of these activities as exciting and providing adventure could be another factor for influencing females to affiliate with gangs (Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001).  In the study performed by Walker-Barnes and Mason (2001), many of the female participants reported that belonging to a gang made them feel important and good about themselves, built up their self-confidence, and allowed them to experience what it is like to be part of something important.  Essentially, females try to make the gang their replacement family and often times see gang membership as fun.  Some even stated that their number one reason for joining a gang was for friendship and fun (Carrasco, 1999).

Females may also join gangs to escape from hostile home environments caused by poverty, abuse, or low parental involvement.  Female gang members have reported that involvement in gangs is a way for them to gain attention, even if it is negative, from their parents.  Another point made is some females may think that becoming a member of a gang will actually give them the opportunity to demonstrate violent behavioral actions they may have learned from home (Archer & Grascia, 2006).  For example, female gang members are more likely than male gang members to have come from a home that contained drug use and family members that have been arrested for crimes (Moore, 2001).

            Other characteristics that influence young women to become affiliated with a gang can be based off the ideas behind becoming a young, female teenager in America (Wang, 2000).  Factors that are seen as potentially influencing a young woman into a gang include (1) the want/need of experiencing adult roles; (2) the security of having a specific status and identity; and (3) the innate response to defy parents and/or people in authority (Wang, 2000).  In this study, of the female students surveyed on the factors leading to gang involvement, Wang (2000) found the following percentages: 71% based gang involvement on peer pressure, 70% on rank protection, 68% on approval from peers, and 66% on troubles in the home.  Loneliness and self-esteem issues were also found to influence young women to join gangs (Wang, 2000).  Other resulting reasons for joining a gang included escape from sexual and/or physical abuse and if the young woman was sexually active (Wang, 2000).  Wang (2000) also concluded that young females might become gang members because gangs often have the ability to obtain narcotics and alcohol readily.