Being part of a gang doesn't necessarily mean you're more likely to use a weapon, but offending in a group could impact on the level of crime committed. TheSite.org unravels the facts and fears.
According to research, almost 500,000 UK teenagers are members of a gang. If you're in a gang, it's said you're more likely to:
Michael Jervis talks about his work with young people who are involved in gangs.
- have friends who are in trouble with the police
- have run away from home
- have been expelled or suspended from school
- be drunk on a frequent basis
What makes a gang?
The term 'gang' is used in many different ways by the media, police, community organisations and the Government. Definitions range from 'a group of young people hanging around shopping centres' to 'organised criminal gangs'.
The Home Office defines a 'delinquent youth group' as:
- young people who spend time in groups of three or more
- a†group who spends a lot of time in public places
- a†group that has existed for three months or more
- a†group that has engaged in criminal or delinquent behaviour in the last 12 months
- a†group that has a name, an area, a leader, or set of rules
Of those belonging to a gang, 13% admitted to carrying a knife and 1% to carrying a gun. This compares to 4% of non-gang members carrying a knife and less than 1% a gun. However, a report by the Bridge House Trust, 'Fear and Fashion - The use of knives and other weapons by young people', claims there is no 'convincing' evidence to prove that belonging to a gang drives young people towards carrying knives or other weapons.
"There are two distinctly different types of gangs. First of all we've got a gang that's a collective group of individuals who wake up in the morning and do nothing but crime," says Michael Jervis, Violent crimes and gun lead officer at London Borough of Waltham Forest and part of the Defendin Da Hood initiative. "Then we've got a second tier we call 'crews', who although will use crime to feed their status level, don't necessarily have a focus of living a life of crime every day of the week.
"Unity in any spectrum is a good thing and there are positives and negatives that can be drawn from all types of unity. What is bad is when you get that connotation wrong and you start using it to affect the way you behave."
Luke, 19 years-old, used to live in a poor estate in Sheffield. "From my experience, a gang is a group of people who give themselves a name and go about life imposing their name and their rule upon others - often using violence," Luke recalls. "But living in a council estate is like being part of a community.
"Anyone who's lived in one will know that regardless of what you do - if you're a student or a worker, or you sit on your ass smoking weed all day - some people in the community will want to transform you into one of them. I don't mean they will rob you or mug you, but by being friendly and showing you respect, it leads you to think you have things in common with them.
"I started smoking weed like this. People from gangs learn early on in their lives the drug and violence world. Some are manipulated by it, and for many, it's the only future they know."
If you're in a gang, it's more than likely you will leave it at some point in your life. Although the bonds you've formed may stay in place, undoubtedly they will grow weaker as time goes on.
Leaving a gang isn't as simple as you might think it is - it will often depend on the role you play in the group. "A gang which offends regularly is normally broken up into a number of structures - someone who does all the stealing, someone who's the 'face' of the gang and does all the selling of the stolen items and someone who will carry a knife to give the gang some credibility," says Michael.
There are many ways to get attention if you genuinely want to get out of a gang. Here's Michael's advice:
- Find someone you trust to confide in who is outside of the gang, such as a member of your family
- If that person's not available then you could contact your local Citizen's Advice Bureau. They will be able to link you up to an organisation that can help
- Contact The Forgiveness Project
- You could go to your housing provider or third party reporting sites and say you've got a problem
- You could try calling CrimeStoppers or the Samaritans as they are trained to assess your position
- Last but not least, don't forget there are always mosques, churches and so on, offering support.