The rise of the ‘Gangster Girl’

The rise of the ‘gangster girl’

Camila Batmanghelidjh runs one of London’s largest children’s charities, Kids Company, which works with some 18,000 of the capital’s most vulnerable children.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, the leading children’s rights campaigner

 

A staunch critic of the Government’s lacklustre policy on gang culture, she has accused the coalition of letting thousands of London’s disturbed children live in a culture of “normalised violence”, where stabbings and shootings are commonplace and called on ministers to “wake up before its too late”.

But are girls purely victims of sexual assault in gangs, or exploited by male gang members, or is there more to it?

“Increasingly, we’re seeing girls who are developing characteristics of violence that are very similar to boys,” she tells me. “At first, the girls are victims of rape, or violators, then they join a gang and become conduits to bringing in other girls to be harmed, and younger kids. So girls are the ones who often set up a situation where a boy will get attacked, such as inviting a boy, pretending they like him, but actually they’re enticing him into a space where they’re attacked.”

 

Batmanghelidjh agreed that girls often start off as being at the bottom of the food chain in gangs. But once girls have effectively earned their stripes – “you’ve got to think of all this as a pathway” – they are then “seen as equal” to boy members.

“There will be girls early on in the pathway who are sexual objects and they’ll be girls further down the pathway who are even worse than boys. The pathway is a brutalisation pathway; witnessing and having to get involved in violating other girls or boys.”

In a recent report by the University of Bedfordshire on behalf of the Children’s Commissioner, researchers described the role of the ‘gangster girl’ in gangs as the only one in which young women’s status was constructed without explicit reference to their association with a male gang member.

In order to survive as a gangster girl, however, many girls and young women adopted a masculine personality and “became one of the guys”, the report says.

As this 22 year-old woman, interviewed for the report, explains:

Quote A gangster girl goes and dresses like a man. In other words, the gold and tattoos and, you know, a tomboyish girl basically who’s willing to hold a gun when needed. One of them brave ones. Cause to be in a gang, you have to have them skills, gang skills innit… It’s how to get respect from men, if a girls in a gang. Because some men will try and have sex with her and she’s not going to know how to react, how to call it up and let them know ‘nah, it’s , we’re just in a gang, we ain’t need to be doing no sex’. So some girls have a talent to that, to say no, innit, and they will still respect them…They’ll do it cooly, they’ll make it into a joke and laugh it off with the guy ‘Out of all them sexy girls!’ like, just act like they are one of the guys. Cause for a girl to be in a gang she has to be like a man.

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How much power do female gangsters hold?

Much of what is written about women in gangs portrays them as victims.

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Girl gangsters: Young women are often portrayed as victims in gangs, but a growing number of experts acknowledge the rise of the ‘gangster girl’ Photo: Alamy

A report by the Centre for Social Justice earlier this year focused on girls being trapped in gangs and living “desperate lives”, where rape is considered normal. Researchers said female members, some as young as 10, are being pressured into having sex with boys to initiate them into gangs.

The think tank warned that “too little” is being done to change the exploitation of girls and young women in gangs, despite the launch of a Home Office strategy three years ago. “The Government was right in 2011 to identify that authorities did not know enough about girls and young women associated with gangs. Yet three years later too little progress has been made,” the report said.

Some three years later, not only are we still in the dark about women’s involvement in gangs, we still tend to see girls and young women as ‘victims only’.

There is no denying that thousands of women are exploited within gangs. It is also far less likely for women to be within positions of power in gangs.

And yet there is growing evidence – and acknowledgement from within the voluntary and third sector – that girls can be just as powerful as boys in gangs.