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Female Gangs

Most early gang research ignores female gang members and female gangs. Indeed, a common approach discusses females only as a means of ending males' gang involvement by encouraging commitments to marriage, fatherhood, and bread-winning. Other studies recognize female involvement in gangs, but identify them as auxiliaries of male gangs. This research describes female gangs as affiliations of a larger, male gang in which males encourage females to develop a gang that adopts a feminized version of the male gang's name, and that provides males with access to female gang members as sex objects.

Anne Campbell's (1984) The Girls in the Gang encouraged research to move beyond its traditional focus. Campbell's study focused on three women involved in three different female gangs in New York City in the early 1980s. Campbell concluded that while females generally become involved in gangs through their relationships with males, their role is not merely that of a sex object; moreover, Campbell noted that female "auxiliary" gangs are less tied to their associated male gang than previous research implied. She emphasized the independence of these female gangs, drawing attention to the ways in which females administrate their own gangs, and gain status through their behavior, rather than through their sexuality.

Several scholars have responded to Campbell's challenge, and there is an increasing body of research on female gangs. Jody Miller (2001) interviewed forty-eight gang and forty-six nongang girls in Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis. She found that most of these young women did not join a gang because of a boyfriend, but formed romantic relationships with gang males after joining a gang. According to Miller, neighborhood exposure to gangs and family contribute more to female gang involvement than do boyfriends. Miller's study, as well as other research, indicates that female gang members commit more crimes than nongang females, as well as nongang males (Curry 2001; Esbensen and Winfree 2001). Moreover, female gang members participate in the same types of offenses committed by male gang members, albeit to a lesser extent.

Recent research notwithstanding, there remains considerable uncertainty about female gangs, including their prevalence. For instance, the 1998 National Youth Gang Survey indicated that only 8 percent of gang members are female (2000). In contrast, the National Evaluation of Gang Resistance Education and Training's (GREAT) 1995 sample of eighth-grade students found that 38 percent of gang members were females (Esbensen and Winfree 2001). The GREAT survey also reports the "mixed gender" gangs far outnumber other gangs: 84 percent of male gang members reported that their gangs had female members (Peterson et al. 2001).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Social IssuesGangs - Defining Gangs, Gang Formation, Symbols Of Gangs And Gang Membership, Gangs And Crime, Gangs And Neighborhoods