George W. Knox, Ph.D.

Director, NGCRC

© Copyright 2008, Chicago, IL, National Gang Crime Research Center.

WARNING: This document is copyright protected in its entirety. A copyright is on file with the U.S. Copyright Office, Washington, DC, United States Library of Congress. The NGCRC strictly forbids reproducing, copying, distributing, or disseminating its “gang profiles”, also known as gang threat analysis research reports. No portion of the contents of these NGCRC gang profiles may be copied, reproduced, stored, or distributed in any form whatsoever without the prior written permission of the National Gang Crime Research Center.



The female gang member and especially the female gang leader is often neglected in our gang literature. This chapter has the goal of increasing practical and social scientific knowledge about female gang members. In Part I of this chapter the reader will find important new research findings about the female gang member. In Part II of this chapter, larger issues about the role of females in gangs today are discussed and analyzed. Additional discussion is made in Part III regarding the rights of young children in the larger societal context of clarifying our moral values and legal codes.



The chivalry hypothesis is advanced as a way of explaining female crime generally. It assumes that there is a bias against locking up females. It may assume that at the gates to the criminal justice system, females are treated differently than males. An example would be if it could be shown that females are more likely to receive "discretion" and therefore screened out of the criminal justice system at the point of arrest.

Touted as the major rival explanatory hypothesis to the chivalry idea is the convergence hypothesis. The convergence hypothesis suggests that females may in some ways be "catching up" to their male counterparts in the criminal justice system as offenders. The convergence hypothesis rears its head every time anyone suggests there is a rise in any aspect of female crime, delinquency, or punishment.

If the chivalry hypothesis is that females receive special treatment in the criminal justice system, then actually, and more logically, the reverse of the chivalry hypothesis would not be convergence, but would rather be something akin to rudeness towards females (e.g., female harassment). Finally, and perhaps more likely, exists possibility that males are simply more prone to crime than females cross-culturally.

How then do we explain, in criminological terms, the female gang situation today? First, enormous evidence suggests that in the overwhelming number of cases involving the larger and more formidable gangs that exist in America today, that these are male-dominated activities: females play a role in these gangs, but not in the top leadership positions. Why would this be true? Criminal offenders are not generally known for being activists against sexism and for the women's rights movement. Criminals abuse women, plain and simple, would be the better bet.

By most actual empirical research conducted, the percentage of female gang members existing in America tends to roughly parallel the percentage of females in the American prison system. About 5 to 6 percent.

Many gangs have female auxiliary units, this is a common phenomenon. Many gangs allow females to associate with them, in a supportive capacity. Some gangs allow females to hold rank and even direct male members. But few major gangs exist that are genuine criminal gangs that are in fact 100 percent female. If we wanted to use Thrasher's definition of gang (any group unsupervised by responsible adults that may engage in deviance), the obviously, such "gangs" would exist everywhere. But few all-girl gangs exist as autonomous gang organizations. How could they exist very long? What would they do? It would have to involve something other than claiming geographical turf, because they would attract every gang that ever heard of them. It would have to involve something other than drug sales, because eventually they would end up in competition with any of a number of male dominated gangs.

There is only one place this author knows where we can easily find all female gangs operating: behind bars, in juvenile detention centers, in juvenile correctional institutions, in adult jails, and in adult correctional institutions that, by definition, allow only females as inmates. Inside some of these facilities there are conflicts and rivalries between the members representing their various gang groups and organizations.


It is possible to theorize about female gang members in terms of how the processes work for females entering gangs, how female gang members compare to their male counterparts, what differentiates female gang members from females in the same social milieu who never join gangs, and whether aspects of abuse and discrimination are significant developmental milestones in female gang careers. However, a "theory" is just that: an argument or opinion that may have nothing to do with the "facts" or the social reality of the issue.

It may be more fruitful to the student of female gang members to begin with some reliable facts about female gang members. In this way, we can begin with the "reality" of female gang members. These, then, would be some of the facts that a good theory would have to account for. There have been a number of different gang research projects reported in recent years that have advanced our knowledge about female gang members.

Let us now turn to some of these "facts" about female gang members in America today.


The research reported here seeks to add to our understanding of female gang members and how they may differ in some respects from their peers who are not gang members. The findings discussed here relate specifically to African-American female high school students. The analysis compares a sample (N = 100 Folks) of those who self-report gang membership with a sample (N = 100 Neutrons) who have never joined a gang. Thus, the fundamental hypothesis explored here is whether or not among African-American females gang members are really different from those who have never joined a gang. Very little systematic research on female gang members has been reported in the social science literature. What literature does exist on the topic of female gang members shows research efforts where the "sample" size was as small as N = 3. This project was undertaken to specifically add to our knowledge about female gang members.


As reported previously (Knox, Laske, and Tromanhauser, 1992), gender is a factor that significantly differentiates self-reported gang membership among high school students. Females have a lower base rate for gang membership than do males. The research problem, then, was to over-sample female students to such an extent that a sufficient group size could be obtained for female gang members. To accomplish this research goal, two versions of the same survey were created: one for males, and one for females.

Several public high schools on Chicago's southside were used for data collection. The male version of the survey is not analyzed here and was not the primary research objective, and thus served a placebo function to basically keep the boys busy in the coed classrooms. Both versions of the survey instrument were five pages long and contained 99 different questions, some of which had multiple parts, and thus well over 99 different variables. Data collection began in early 1993 and continued until May, 1993 when a sufficient number of self-reported female gang members had been reached.

All survey instruments were stored by the school and classroom in which they were collected. Manual checks were made to identify self-reported gang members and then the gang member was matched by race, age, and grade level often from the same classroom with a non-gang member respondent. The analysis reported here therefore reflects a matched-pair design of African-American female high school students, half (N=100) of whom self-reported that they had previously joined a gang, and half (N=100) of whom reported that they had never joined a gang.


All of the female gang members (N = 100) are members of the Folks gang nation. More specifically, they self-identify as Sisters of the Struggle (S.O.S.), Intellectual Sisters, Intellectual Sisters of the Struggle (I.S.O.S.), or simply members of the Gangster Disciples gang. The "Intellectual Sisters" identity comes from the written internal literature of the Brothers of the Struggle (B.O.S.), which is essentially the conglomerate group of the Disciples Nation. While other "Folks" gangs exist which have female members, our data allowed the identification of specific gangs to which the respondents self-reported their membership in. For all practical purposes, then, the female gang members analyzed here can be regarded as "Intellectual Sisters" or S.O.S. --- the female constituency of the clearly male dominated B.O.S. organization.

All of the African-American females (N = 100) who have never joined a gang are typically regarded as "Neutrons" in the context of the high school and community environment. A "Neutron" is a person who is not gang-affiliated, having never joined any gang and not being aligned with any gang nation (e.g., People or Folks, Brothers or Folks, Crips or Bloods, etc).

The school grade level among folks and neutrons was almost identical as seen here:

                          Neutrons Folks

9th grade              29            30

10th grade           28              27

11th grade           22             24

12th grade           21             19

TOTAL             100             100

Mean                 10.3            10.3

Similarly, the age distribution among folks and neutrons is very similar as seen here:

                      Neutrons Folks

AGE: <=14         12           9

15                        22          23

16                        33          28

17                        22         26

18                       10          10

>=19                    1            4

TOTAL           100        100

Mean               15.9        16.1

The family structure in terms of number of siblings (brothers and sisters) and total number of persons living in the household also show the two groups are similar, but with tendency being for somewhat larger sizes among those who self-report gang membership as seen below:

                                                                Neutrons Folks

Number of Brothers Mean                     1.75        2.36

Number of Sisters Mean                       1.77        1.83

Total Household Members Mean       4.66         4.91

Family function in terms of "openness" also appeared to vary little between these two groups. Two separate questions addressed this issue, asking "how easy or hard is it for you to speak with your mother" and father, using a response mode of zero (very hard) to ten (very easy). Openness for communication with mother showed a mean of 6.60 for neutrons compared to 7.17 for folks; and with fathers a mean of 5.34 for neutrons, and 5.16 for folks.


It is helpful to begin this discussion with a summary of those factors for which no significant difference emerged in comparing those African-American females who had, or who had not ever, joined a gang. Figure 18 lists those factors from the survey for which no significant difference emerged using the Chi-square test (p > .05). As seen in Figure 18, some factors reported recently in the literature to be important with regard to gang membership (e.g., suicide ideation) are shown here to be factors not significantly differentiated by gang membership within this sample.






Description of Survey Instrument Question or Variable:

Do you think some types of rap music encourages crime or violence?

Are you mother and father either divorced or separated?

Have you ever given birth to a child?

Do you plan on graduating from high school?

Have you ever joined Girl Scouts?

During the past 12 months did you ever seriously consider suicide?

Have you ever tried cocaine?

Do both of your parents live in the same household with you?

Are girls more likely to get a break from police?

I often think people are talking about me.

I am not as emotional as other people.

Do you have any regular part-time or full-time job?

What is your official Grade Point Average for high school?

Do you have a lot of resentment about the way some racial groups are treated differently than others?

Nobody tells me what to do.

I want to eventually marry and have children.

This is a sexist society that discriminates against women.

Have your parents verbally abused you one or more times in the last two months?

Has your boyfriend verbally abused you one or more times in the last two months?

Have you defied your parents' authority to their face one or more times?

Have one or more close friends and associates who have been wounded by gunfire in a gang shooting?


Table 30 provides the frequency crosstabulation of those variables that were significantly differentiated by gang membership among this sample of African-American female high school students in Chicago. These results can be summarized in terms of six profile patterns: family life, substance abuse, school discipline, dating, violence socialization, and aggressive personality characteristics.

(1) The Family Life Profile. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report that they have siblings (brothers or sisters) who are also gang members. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report prior pregnancies. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report that their family receives Public Aid. Female gang members are significantly less likely to report that they regularly attend church. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report having struck (hit) a parent one or more times. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report ever having run away from home. Female gang members are significantly less likely to report receiving an allowance from their family.

(2) The Substance Abuse Profile. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report that a lot of kids in their neighborhood use illicit drugs. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report using marijuana at least once a week. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report drinking alcohol at least once a week. Female gang members are significantly more likely to report having close friends who have shot up/injected drugs (e.g. IV drug use) and who use illicit drugs.

(3) The School Discipline Profile. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report knowing the police officers who work at the school. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having been (a) suspended from school, (b) having an 'in school' suspension, and (c) having an 'in-school' detention. The female gang member has a lower educational aspiration by being significantly less likely to expect to graduate from a 4-year college. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report also having been previously arrested. (4) The Dating Profile. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having a boyfriend who has an arrest record. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having ever been beaten or assaulted by a boyfriend. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report that she could marry someone who is an active gang member; and, reminiscent of the classic Westside Story, apparently more willing to date a rival gang member if he showed respect. The female gang member is significantly less willing to marry someone of another race.

(5) The Violence Socialization Profile. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having been previously threatened with gang violence. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having ever carried a weapon to school for protection. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having been in one or more fights during the last year. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having ever had to pull a knife on someone. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having had experience in shooting a handgun. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report having a permanent tattoo.

(6) The Aggressive Personality Profile. The female gang member is significantly more likely to believe she can take a beating just like a man. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report that she would never back out of a fight. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report that she sometimes feels like smashing things for no apparent reason. The female gang member is significantly more likely to think of herself as someone who fights first and asks questions later. The female gang member is significantly more likely to report that other persons consider her a very defiant individual and to distrust other people.


























In your neighborhood, do a

lot of kids use illicit drugs?

NO 23 12

YES 24 (24%) 40 (40.4%)

DON'T KNOW 53 47

Chi-square = 7.81, p = .02

Has your boyfriend ever been

arrested for any crime?

NO 71 39

YES 27 (27.5%) 60 (60.6%)

Chi-square = 21.82, p < .001

Have any of your brothers or

sisters been in a gang?

NO 74 44

YES 25 (25.2%) 56 (56%)

Chi-square = 19.48, p < .001

Do you know the police officers

who work at your school?

NO 40 15

YES 60 (60%) 85 (85%)

Chi-square = 15.67, p < .001

Have you ever been beaten or

assaulted by a boyfriend?

NO 88 75

YES 12 (12%) 23 (23.4%)

Chi-square = 4.47, p = .03

Do you plan on graduating

from a 4-year college?

NO 15 29

YES 84 (84.8) 68 (70.1%)

Chi-square = 6.11, p = .01

Do you have a permanent

tattoo? NO 90 43

YES 10 (10%) 53 (55.2%)

Chi-square = 45.89, p < .001



How many times have you been

pregnant? 0 times 75 (75%) 59 (60.8%)

1 time 21 23

2 or more times 4 15

Chi-square = 8.32, p = .01

Do you use marijuana at

least once a week? NO 96 60

YES 4 (4%) 40 (40%)

Chi-square = 37.76, p < .001

Do you drink alcohol at

least once a week? NO 92 62

YES 8 (8%) 37 (37.3%)

Chi-square = 24.52, p < .001

Have any of your close

friends ever injected

(shot up) drugs? NO 95 87

YES 4 (4%) 13 (13%)

Chi-square = 5.11, p = .02

Have you ever been

arrested for anything? NO 88 37

YES 12 (12%) 60 (61.8%)

Chi-square = 52.77, p < .001

Is it hard to get out of

a gang? NO 5 48

YES 24 36

% Yes (24.4%) (37.5%)

DON'T KNOW 69 12

Chi-square = 77.38, p < .001

Have you been helped by

a police officer before?

NO 66 44

YES 33 (33.3%) 53 (54.6%)

Chi-square = 9.03, p = .003

Would you go out with a

rival gang member if he

showed respect for you? NO 46 21

YES 50 (52%) 74 (77.8%)

Chi-square = 13.96, p < .001

Do you think you could marry

someone who is an active

gang member? NO 79 32

YES 20 (20.2%) 64 (66.6%)

Chi-square = 42.91, p < .001

Do you receive an allowance

from your family? NO 29 47

YES 69 (70.4%) 53 (53%)

Chi-square = 6.34, p = .01

Have you ever been suspended

from school? NO 61 25

YES 38 (38.3%) 73 (74.4%)

Chi-square = 26.10, p < .001

Have you ever had an

'In School' Suspension? NO 67 49

YES 31 (31.6%) 50 (50.5%)

Chi-square = 7.24, p = .007

Have you ever had an

'In School' (hit) detention?

NO 57 37

YES 42 (42.4%) 62 (62.6%)

Chi-square = 7.68, p = .006

Do other persons consider

you a very defiant individual?

NO 60 39

YES 34 (36.1%) 51 (51%)

Chi-square = 7.77, p = .005

Does your family currently

receive Public Aid? NO 69 49

YES 29 (29.9%) 46 (48.4%)

Chi-square = 7.19, p = .007

Have you ever helped to

recruit other females into

a gang? NO 95 50

YES 3 (3%) 47 (48.4%)

Chi-square = 52.68, p < .001

Do you regularly attend

church or religious worship?

NO 49 61

YES 50 (50.5%) 30 (32.9%)

Chi-square = 5.98, p = .01

Do you think you could marry

someone of another race? NO 38 55

YES 59 (60.8%) 37 (40.2%)

Chi-square = 8.02, p = .005




Have you ever run away

from home? NO 76 56

YES 23 (23.2%) 37 (39.7%)

Chi-square = 6.11, p = .01

In the last year, have you ever

been threatened with violence by

a gang member? NO 82 68

YES 17 (17.1%) 28 (29.1%)

Chi-square = 3.95, p = .04

Have you ever carried a weapon

to school for protection? NO 78 42

YES 21 (21.2%) 53 (55.7%)

Chi-square = 24.56, p < .001

I can take a beating just

like a man. FALSE 83 45

TRUE 17 (17%) 51 (53.1%)

Chi-square = 28.21, p < .001

I would never back out of a

fight. FALSE 43 28

TRUE 56 (56.5%) 68 (70.8%)

Chi-square = 4.28, p = .03

I sometimes feel like smashing

things for no apparent reason.

FALSE 70 48

TRUE 27 (27.8%) 49 (50.5%)

Chi-square = 10.47, p = .001

A person like me fights first and

asks questions later. FALSE 82 46

TRUE 17 (17.1%) 51 (52.5%)

Chi-square = 27.10, p < .001

I have had experience in shooting

a real handgun. FALSE 84 46

TRUE 15 (15.1%) 50 (52%)

Chi-square = 29.91, p < .001

At least once, I've had to pull a

knife on someone. FALSE 78 41

TRUE 19 (19.8%) 56 (57.7%)

Chi-square = 29.75, p < .001

A person is better off by not

trusting anyone. FALSE 64 44

TRUE 35 (35.3%) 53 (54.6%)

Chi-square = 7.36, p = .007

Have one or more close friends

and associates who use illicit drugs?

NO 72 47

YES 28 (28%) 51 (52%)

Chi-square = 11.92, p = .001

Been in one or more fights in

the last year? NO 56 22

YES 42 (42.8%) 74 (77%)

Chi-square = 23.63, p < .001

Ever struck your mother or

father (hit them) one or more times?

NO 81 61

YES 19 (19%) 35 (36.4%)

Chi-square = 7.47, p = .006






What do these female gang members report in terms of convergence and chivalry hypotheses? Are the females in this particular gang on equal status and enjoy equal opportunity for advancement as found in the male gang member counterparts (the convergence hypothesis)? Or are females given special duties because of their gender and are still basically relegated to a subservient position in a male dominated organization (the chivalry hypothesis)? Here we can test these issues by taking a closer look at the viewpoints of our sample of female gang members.

About half of the female gang members (52.1%) report that their boyfriend is also a member of the same gang.

When asked "within the gang, are female members treated the same as males (i.e., do they have the same status and privileges as males)", some 60 percent said "yes". About a fourth (26.3%) said "no". And the rest (13.7%) were not sure.

When asked if the females in the gang are used for specific jobs or tasks because they are females, about half (53.7%) said "no". About a fourth (28.4%) said "yes". And the rest (17.9%) were not sure.

When asked if females in the gang have special duties which males do not have, some 37.8 percent said "yes". About an equal proportion (40.8%) said "no". And about a fifth (21.4%) were not sure.

When asked if female members are permitted to date males who are not members of the same gang, about two-thirds (65.6%) said "yes". Some 17.7 percent said "no", and the rest (16.7%) were not sure.

When asked if female members are allowed to be leaders within the gang nearly three-fourths (74.2%) said "yes". Some 9.7 percent said "no", and the rest (16.1%) were not sure.

When asked if female members are allowed to lead or control male gang members this story of equal opportunity tends to unravel. About half (51.6%) of the respondents said that they were not allowed to lead or control gang members in their gang. Still, some 29.5 percent said it would be possible for females to exert this power over males. And some 18.9 percent were not sure.

One of the classical ways in which male gang members exploit female gang members and female gang associates is to use them to limit their risk of apprehension and arrest. Numerous examples exist in the literature, for example, showing that female gang members are often asked to carry guns for their male members as Dawley described in his tenure with the Vice Lords that the females were used for "whatever was needed" including sex:

"A Vice Lady was also used for carrying guns. The police couldn't search females so she could carry a shotgun up under her dress and the fellas could walk alongside" (Dawley, 1992: p. 31).

When asked if female gang members are expected to carry guns for the male gang members, some 32.3 percent said "yes". About half (50.5%) said "no". The rest (17.2%) were not sure.

Theoretically some gang organizations can be expected to display more of the chivalry pattern than others. This is true, as documented elsewhere, because some gang organizations like the Black P. Stones and the Vice Lords have a strong Islamic ideological influence in their internal beliefs and in their written gang internal literature and belief system. Historically, women have not gained the same power and status as men in Islamic groups or societies. The group studied here is not one that has a pronounced Islamic influence. The "Brothers" gang nation has the more pronounced Islamic identity. Thus, theoretically it is possible to hypothesize that greater convergence would be found in this group (S.O.S.) than among gangs composed primarily of the same racial group representing a rival or opposition gang nation (e.g., Stones, Vice Lords, etc).

No clear cut answer, thus, is forthcoming on this issue. The data suggest a mixed set of findings in a gang that held the best possibility for convergence. To a large extent, however, it would appear that females have not exactly liberated this particular gang organization. While this particular gang organization is very adept at sponsoring regular educational meetings for its members called "Awareness Sessions", not one of them in the list of subjects known to the present authors has dealt with "Feminism Today".

What is very clear from this research is that female gang members differ in significant ways from their non-gang member counterparts matched by the same race, age, and school grade level. This still does not answer the more fundamental question of whether female gang members differ significantly from the social, psychological, and behavioral or background profile found among male gang members.


We know so very little about the role of females involved in gangs consider the scope of the problem. In the recent research on 232 police chiefs an 25 county sheriffs in Illinois, when these law enforcement administrators were asked whether females were also involved in the gangs in their areas, some 74.2 percent of the police chiefs and 68.2 percent of the county sheriffs indicated this was true. Thus, it is a problem much larger than its knowledge base.

There are many other interesting issues about female gang members that need further research. Some of these larger issues are described here, and where possible new and other additional hard data is provided. Finally, the rights of children are examined in the context of the gang problem today.

Are Female Gang Members More Violent In Some Situations Than Their Male Gang Member Counterparts?

I recall witnessing my first female gang member violence. It happened in Bridgeport, a community area in Chicago, one of the many Chicago communities I have lived in. This particular incident occurred in the mid-1980s, and it involved about ten female members of the Satans Disciples. The female gang members had lured another female into an ambush on the corner of Racine and 31st Street. I ended up taking the victim to the hospital, so both witnessing the event and debriefing the victim afterwards as a resident of the community, this gang experience is treated as nothing more than anyone who lives in an urban area may have also had in terms of life experience. It is direct observation and focused interviewing with the victim.

First this particular gang violence was exceptionally brutal. The victim was 18 years old and in a late stage of pregnancy at the time she was attacked. What I saw caused me to holler from a second floor window to down below on the street and rush to take the victim to the hospital. The female gang members felt slighted by this neutron at the high school. The victim had said something that was taken as verbal insult to one of the female members of the Satans Disciples. No chance for an apology was to ever come.

What happened was a classic physical assault ambush. A confederate of the female gang members had lured the victim out to meet at the corner "store" (a small lean-to mom-and-pop style grocery that catered mostly to kids for snacks, but also sold drug paraphernalia). Once the victim was out of her house and got to the corner where the store was located, the other female members of the Satans Disciples "swooped" from three directions, waiting in hiding nearby.

There were about ten female gang members, ranging from 15 to 19 years of age, including Mexican-American and white members. The first few punches to the face and head of the victim from the first several female gang members that ran up on the victim were sufficient to knock the victim to the ground. Subsequent kicks by the female gang members that surrounded her body, on and about the head, rendered the victim helpless as she laid on the sidewalk with the gang girls pummelling her. This all happened in a quick instant and lasted only a minute and then the female gang members had dispersed in different directions leaving behind a bloodied victim. Actually two victims. Because the victim in this instance was in a late stage of pregnancy.

The female gang members eagerly tried to get close to the victim on the ground and kick the victim in the stomach. It was obvious the victim was pregnant. But the female gang members focused their attention on kicking the fetus. As the attack happened I hollered to the gang members to stop, and then ran from the building to the scene. Just as I got to the scene the female gang members had retreated.

With a neighbor I took the victim directly to the hospital and notified the police.

The issue here is whether female gang members are, as some have alleged, more violent or more vicious than their male gang member counterparts? Much informal information developed by numerous interviews with gang members and others has often led to the final appraisal of this issue by responses to the scenario: if you were in alley and at one end you faced the male members of the gang, and at the other end of the alley you faced the female members of the gang, and there was no way out, which end of the alley would you prefer to taking your beating from? I have never seen someone prefer the female end of the alley. Many seem to point to a kind of over-compensation phenomenon where the female gang member will be predictably more violent.

No systematic research has yet answered this question. There is other evidence that speaks to this issue. But for the most part, the gang member problem in America is a male problem; the vast majority of the leaders of serious criminal gangs are older adult males. The traditional exploitive arrangement seems to be the norm: where the female gang members act almost as the "Womens Auxiliary" of the male dominated gang culture.



"The Study of Confined Juvenile Gang Girls by Rosenbaum (1996)"

The study by Jill Leslie Rosenbaum ("A Violent Few: Gang Girls in the California Youth Authority", Journal of Gang Research, Vol. 3, No. 3, Spring, 1996: 17-23) pointed out that a lot of misconceptions about "female gang members" have been previously published in the criminological literature. Among these misconceptions was the generalization from Cohen (1955: p. 45) that female delinquency generally consists primarily of sexual delinquency.

Rosenbaum studied N = 70 female gang members confined in the California state juvenile correctional system. The profile that emerged was this: 94% had been arrested for a violent crime; most joined the gang at age 12; about half "had other family members who had served time in jail or state prison" (p. 19); about half of these female gang members reported being the early victims of sexual or physical abuse in their generally dysfunctional families.

Rosenbaum takes Chesney-Lind (1993) to task for the claim that violent girl gang behavior is a social-construction of the mass media. Says Rosenbaum, "she obviously has not looked closely at the female gang members who have found their way to the California Youth Authority" (p. 21).



Yes, is the clear answer here. There do exist, just as among males, gangs of varying levels of sophistication in terms of their organization and in terms of their level of crime threat, which are gangs composed almost entirely if not exclusively of female members. Most examples of this type of all female gang are those at the lower level of the gang crime threat continuum. However, some recent research does show that the all female criminal gang does in fact exist.

Perhaps the strongest evidence documenting the all female criminal gang is the work entitled "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves: A Black Female Gang in San Francisco" by Lauderback, Hansen, and Waldorf (1992) published in what is now the Journal of Gang Research. In their work they documented the group called the Potrero Hill Posse, or PHP. Their study basically showed this all female gang to be primarily involved in drug sales operations. It also seemed to attract less attention from the police, in fact their study showed that only a half of the members had an arrest record. Is it possible that the Chivalry hypothesis operates here: that is citizens are more likely to call the police when a group of boys hang on the corner, and be less likely to call the police about a complaint of suspicious girls on the corner? This would make for a fascinating actual field experiment for those interested in future research on gangs.

What happens to male dominated gangs also happens to female gangs is another finding of the Lauderback, Hansen, and Waldorf study. When one group forms, another will form to oppose it. This has been called the law of natural group opposition formation; where a blue gang starts, a red gang will shortly follow; where a folks gang starts, a peoples gang will shortly organize to counteract it. The Potrero Hill Posse had their opposing local gang in a group called the Valencia Gardens Mob, also composed primarily of African-American females.


Nationwide a lower gang density is always reported for females than for males. This consistently appears in research on the different types of correctional environments as well: juvenile short term detention facilities, juvenile long term correctional institutions, local jails, and adult state correctional institutions. However, this lower gang density is that reported as the official estimate only. There is reason to be somewhat skeptical about the official estimates from those who are the chief administrators of the same facilities.

The fact remains, however, that in the female component of the correctional system what we have are groups of females that interact along gang lines. One thing appears to be true and deserving of much more research: that females are in this context much less violent than their male counterparts. One can readily find numerous examples of male gang members behind bars who kill other inmates and who even assassinate correctional officers, and who routinely "riot". In a recent gang riot at Cook County Jail, a male gang member situation, the Vice Lords fought the Disciples over who would have first use of the shower. Seven inmates were stabbed, and two were killed in this frivolous fight over who showers first.

We do not seem to hear as much such gang violence in the female correctional context. Is this a problem of statistical proportions that is masked and biased by the very nature of the use of the penal sanction in America? Possibly so. For please recall that historically in America about only five percent of the prison inmates have been female, and this trend is largely consistent over a very long period of the history of American criminal justice. One possibility we can rule out for those that would claim that female gang members are less violent in custody than their male counterparts, is the idea that female inmates are treated better. The fact is most correctional programs are geared towards males, especially the rehabilitation and vocational training programs. Much fewer resources are allocated to the womens division of most state correctional systems. So one cannot effectively argue that women gang members are less violent because they are treated better than male inmates.

What we do know about inmate roles is that female inmates take on more of a quasi-family function, and do appear to have social skills to be able to avoid and mediate conflicts. What we do know about male inmates is that many, particularly gang members, have a kind of combative personality syndrome that prefers conflict over all other options for problem solving. Still the issue is a gnawing one that deserves greater research. Our correctional institutions provide a natural arena in which to ascertain the nature of the differences in gang violence and much more research needs to be done in this area.



"Queens of Armed Robbery: Short-lived All Female Gang"

An example of a small all-female gang that specialized in armed robbery demonstrates that all-female gangs can exist and can be involved in violent crime. This particular example, though, is rare.

Four girls made up the gang called the "Queens of Armed Robbery". They came from an affluent suburb of Houston, Texas. Their gang behavior: armed robbery, no graffiti, just armed robberies, typically convenience stores. The girls were linked to at least five different robberies during the summer of 1999.

Two of the girls (both 17 years old), Lisa Warzeka and Katie Dunn, were sentenced to 7 year prison terms for their role in the armed robberies.

SOURCE: "Texas: Girl Gang Members Get 7-Year Terms for Store Robberies", Chicago Tribune, Jan. 29, 2000, Section 1, p. 10.


BURNING OUT: Slowing Disengaging From Gang Life As Some Approach Adulthood.

A number qualitative interviews with female gang members have shown this type of scenario. The basic situation was that of where the female gang member of a larger male dominated gang, usually a very structured criminal gang, slowly disengages from the gangs routine activities. The end result is the ex-gang member or what could also be called the inactive gang member. Some simply "grow out of it", their affiliation with the gang was contextually centered, that is typically in a high school situation, so when they reach their early 20s, their social network changes, and they find themselves progressively avoiding the trouble that gang life provides.

Case #1: White Female Member of White Gang.

A white female gang member of the Simon City Royals, a predominantly white gang in Chicago, simply found herself hanging out with the gang less and less over time as she had to find a job, and pay her own bills. Quitting shortly after high school, relocating to a new neighborhood, and not renewing high school contacts, she established an entirely new social network of friends and associates. She still has the gang tattoo, but it is on an area of the body not normally exposed in public. And so it is easy to simply act like she knows nothing about gangs and live a law abiding existence. Which is what she does. Gang life for her was a temporary adolescent fad, it had its value in high school, but it lost its value as she faced the need to seriously address how she was going to fit into her society --- and pay the bills and the rent. She is today a highly responsible citizen, who works like anyone else for a living at ordinary jobs.

Case #2: African-American female member of the Gangster Disciples.

An African-American female member of the Gangster Disciples provides another example of this disengagement theory about severing ties to the gang. This person began to sever the ties to the gang at the time she enrolled as a student in university. By the time she had graduated she still lived in the area where she grew up, but she no longer was active in gang life on the streets. In fact, she had thought that she was completely out of the gang until one night in 1993 some Gangster Disciples came to her house.

While she still lived on the southside, she had moved and did not think her gang knew where she lived. But they appeared at her door one night and handed her a petition and basically ordered her to sign the petition. The petition was that being circulated in the Chicago area, which ultimately had over 5,000 names on it, demanding that the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (i.e., the parole board) grant Larry Hoover (their gang leader) a parole because he was now rehabilitated.

The Gangster Disciples are and always have been male dominated. We can demonstrate this by examining the infrastructure of the Gangster Disciples below. This particular chain of command was analyzed and created by someone in law enforcement. The author has not been able to verify how accurate the list is currently, as this gang as all others are open-systems, and do change, gang members particularly gang leaders are killed routinely. So it has not been completely updated nor validated. But using it as a basis for routine interviews with gang members including high ranking members, does suggest it is accurate.





Gangster Disciples Chain of Command

Larry Hoover

"King Larry"

IR # 190647


ASSISTANT CHAIRMAN: Melvin Haywood, "Head".

BOARD MEMBERS: Leon Bolton, "Bo Diddley", IR # 2692948; Duffy Clark, "Guy", IR # 257920; Ernest Wilson, "Smokey", IR # 255775; Robert Dordles, "Coal Black", IR # 385784; Vincent Galloway, "Legs Diamond", IR # 342983; Robert Lowe, "Big Lowe", IR # 181344; Michael Scott, "Speedy", IR # 362031; Henry Griffin, "Money", IR # 10010; Charles Harris, "Sundown", IR # 472523; Gregory Sharpe, "G Sharpe", IR # 289496; Jeffery Hatcher, IR # 295827; Ernest Hope, "Junior", IR # 141819; Michael Smith, "Michael G.", IR # 369474; Kirk Williams, IR # 510708; Andrew Howard, "Dee Dee", IR # 69789; Michael Johnson, "Pair a Dice", IR # 269463; Gregory Shell, "Shorty G", IR # 704666; Carey Smith Jr., "Lucky G", IR # 112018.

FINANCE AND COMMUNICATIONS: Lucy Kemper, IR # 29623; Bertha Mosby, IR # 393682; Stephanie Powe, #IR # 827544; Johnny Jackson, IR # 899836; Miranda Goodloe, IR # 132030.

GOVERNORS AND AREA COORDINATORS: Dontay Banks, "Dirk", IR # 786407; Michael Baptiste, "Bap / White Mike", IR # 343836; Dave Smith, "Heavy D", IR # 640147; William Baptiste, IR # 624366; Victor Thompson, IR # 582181; Darryl Brent, "Pee Wee", IR #350360; Willis Richardson, "Dollar Bill", IR #605286; Samuel Bryant, "Big Wayne", IR # 509590; William Edwards, "Too Short", IR # 887190; Antoine Stewart, "Magellan", IR # 597036; Alexander Faulloner, "Champagne Black", IR # 562872; Delano E. Finch, "Trouble", IR # 901570; Ricky Harris, "Slick Rick", IR # 668316; Dan Wesson, "Dan Tanna", IR # 431704; Darryl Johnson, "Pops", IR # 672416; Tommy London, IR # 739111; Lamont O. Mattick, "G Money", IR # 865244; Terry McClinton, IR #752581.

REGENTS/STREET ENFORCERS: Robert Berry, "Renegade", IR # 633222; Eddie Clark, IR # 930027; Johnny Walker, IR # 680305; Kevin Reed, IR # 952171; Arthur Jones, IR # 821482; Darnell Thames, IR # 872922; Kyle Dunqy, IR # 558602; Vincent Martin, "Peanut", IR # 404140; Michael Mason, "Midnight", IR #834077; John Williams, IR # 376872.


Clearly, there are few females in this command structure. Where the female gang members are concentrated are in the finance and communications area. The leaders, then, are primarily males. Returning now to the case study, this particular former female member reported that she basically had to sign to petition. She had no choice, the gang members knew who she was and simply told her to sign the petition. When she explained this situation to me, she was obviously somewhat frightened and now alarmed that the gang had discovered her again. She had effectively avoided the gang for several years and was on the verge of graduating from the university and going on the establish a normal American career.

She did decide at this point, however, to move far from the community she grew up in. She did not want to be surprised again by a knock on the door and find herself facing the same gang associates she had grown up with. As a post script to this case study, I had realized that the petition would represent a legitimate source for gang research, therefore on May 9th, 1994 I did make a Freedom of Information Act request for the full petition contain all names and pages. A month later, no results, so I made the same request again by registered mail to several officials. Then I was told that because the petition was not needed any longer, now that the parole hearing was over, that the petition and all its contents had been destroyed, that is discarded. The full truth here may never be known. Was it really destroyed? And if so why? We could not afford an attorney to challenge the agency in court to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, so it must remain a mystery until someone else examines the issue. We did view it as a goldmine for gang research because it might be one case where gang members actually gave their true and correct names and addresses --- for if they did not, and they belonged to the gang, they could certainly count on stiff sanctions from their own gang, that is a "violation". But the fact remains, the agency through its staff reported to us verbally that they had disposed of the petition and thus could not comply the FOIA.

Case #3: Female Associate of Latin Gang.

This case shows the classic situation of being dually integrated at a high level into conventional society and into the subculture, a kind of marginal adaptation. She prefers the Barrio life even now as she is capable of moving out and starting a professional career. Why? Because that is where she grew up and has many friends there. She was able to basically leave the gang alone, and to this day remains friendly with them, because they are part of the very fabric of the Hispanic Chicago community she lives in. She still knows the gang members, and the gang leaders, and has family members in the gang. She is not, however, likely to be active in any gang criminal operation nor involved in its street life. She is, however, cordial to the homies. And has simply been able to disengage over a period of years while working and attending college, a period of time that corresponded to her own maturation and entry into young adulthood. Not uncommon, she has no arrest record and plans to work in the criminal justice system. She would like to work, in fact, for the FBI now that she is a college graduate and considering going to law school.

She was not sure what she would do when I posed the moral dilemma to her as follows: she graduates from law school, still lives in the same area, and because of her language and cultural skills she is assigned as a new FBI agent to investigate and develop indictments on her own brother who is a local leader of this particular chapter of the Latin Kings. It was not possible for her to tell me precisely what she would do. She was in a quandary over this moral dilemma situation. Being a part of both worlds, the non-gang and the gang life, this situation describes a number of persons who are able to do a fine balancing act: having close ties with the gang world, and the "straight" world. But not unlike the undercover vice detective immersed in a deep cover investigation, they take on language and habits that expose them systematically to personal risks. It is the marginal adaptation: and the lure of the subculture is addictive, and sometimes deadly.

In the Hispanic and Latino gang structure, the culture is one of male domination. Female "members", or associates, are basically a supportive function, with some noted exceptions. The notable exceptions do capture front page newspaper headlines: such as the case in Chicago where two female gang members lured members of an opposing gang into a park late at night, under the pretense of romance, and then summarily executed the two rival male gang members with shots to the back of the head.

Female gang members do take the initiative in some situations. Female gang members are able to hold positions of rank in traditionally male-dominated gangs. Female gang members are able to at least feel as if they are treated equally, and "part of the family" by gangs that have mostly male leaders. Female gang members are able to get in a gang through means other than offering themselves as sexual objects, and to be "blessed" into the gang by having family members or others in high position who give them special status, or who simply decide to take their licks like the male counterparts in a "jumping in" type of ceremony. That is, the violence can be physical punishment or sexual in nature as a part of the initiation. Being the sexual object as a part of the initiation process can mean total humiliation by a variety of measures: including shaking the dice to see how many members they will have to have sex with, or more usually having to submit to any and all sexual acts desired by anyone present at the initiation ceremony. It is less status-enhancing to a career in gang life for a female member to opt for the sexual object version of gang initiation. It is more status-enhancing to a career in gang life for a female member to want to be jumped in or who is willing to make her bones in a retaliatory attack on an opposition gang (i.e., a gang drive-by shooting, etc).

Female gang members do congregate and create a critical mass in public conflicts just as do their male gang member counterparts. Still there is something very unique about the female gang member that deserves further analysis --- motherhood.



"The Tabula Rasa Treatment Program for Female Gang Members"

The study by Ernest M. De Zolt, Linda M. Schmidt, and Donna C. Gilcher ("The 'Tabula Rasa' Intervention Project for Delinquent Gang-Involved Females", Journal of Gang Research, Vol. 3, No. 3, Spring, 1996: 37-43) described a promising program for female gang members in Cleveland that grew out of a reported 22 percent increase in female delinquency. The project involved a "rites of passage" approach that included: an educational component, a "wellness" component, and a job skills or vocational component. Thus, tutoring and mentoring were part of this holistic approach. It included bi-weekly group counseling by a licensed psychologist as well.



It happens more often than many would suspect. Young mothers active in the gang and having children, raising them from infancy on how to properly show their gang signs and the like. The fact is our current laws do not define raising a child to be a gang member as a crime or even as constituting child abuse. The fact is that white extremist gangs routinely raise their children in the same doctrine of hate and this is also not defined anywhere in America as a crime or as a prima facie case of child abuse. The sadder fact remains that in spite of the many agencies designed to protect the rights of children and the public of children throughout our federal and state government bureaucracies, we have no idea of how pervasive this problem may be, nor what it may portend for the future.

The astute reader must recall the history of this issue of the moral awakening of American society. Up until the 1970s in some parts of America child abuse as a crime was limited to unique situations where the child was admitted to the emergency room with multiple bone fractures. Today, obviously, a lower standard of "proof" of child abuse exists. It was not until the 1980s that we saw actual criminal laws appear defining "hate crimes" or "bias crimes" in America. Obviously, this does not mean that it America only had criminal child abuse until after the 1970s, or that we only had bias crimes until after the 1980s; what this means is that it took us this long to get laws passed reflecting the moral consensus of Americans. We still have a very long way to go to get our policy makers and our law makers serving the best interests of the American child today.

Should mothers who raise their kids to be gang members lose their rights of being responsible parents? That is, should there be a law enabling the public guardian of any community to take custody of such a child and put the child up for adoption or in foster or group homes until it an adult? Or is it an inalienable right of any parent to raise their child to be a racist or klansman? And what of the rights of the children involved here? Do they have any rights? And how do we weigh these against the rights of the parents and the public?


This scenario has many variations, and is well documented, painting the picture of the traditional exploitative relationships that male gang leaders have over female members. Many were shocked to hear the case in Texas where two adolescent females were required to have sex with what they were told was an HIV positive gang member as a mandatory part of their initiation ceremony into the gang, for which they did comply. Other cases of violence against female members emerge when the female member is suspected of "knowing too much" about the gang, particularly its criminal operations, at which point the female member becomes a liability to the male gang leaders and she is executed. The case of Yummy is similar to this scenario, he knew too much too, and was executed by his own gang before he could talk.

One particularly brutal case of violence was in the case of 20-year-old Kristin Ponquinette, a high school graduate, and the daughter of the school superintendent in Aurora, Illinois. In this case, Ponquinette had simply been a wannabe, hanging out with lower level gang members. She witnessed the gang business operations, became sexually involved with some of the male gang members, and after a confrontation with jealous female members of the gang, she was targeted for execution. This execution was described thusly:

"On April 17, 1992, according to testimony in the trials, Mobley's gang tied and gagged Kristin Ponquinette in a basement garage, threatened her with a chain saw, chopped off her hair, beat her and locked her in a closet.

Then they led her to a railroad bridge at 127th Street and Eggleston Avenue, where they smashed her over the head with a chunk of cement, wired a manhole cover to her feet and threw her into the Cal-Sag Channel.

The body eventually broke loose from the manhole cover and was found floating miles downstream in Alsip nine days later by a Coast Guard boat".



"Females Represent About Six Percent of the Gang Problem"

The study by George T. Felkenes and Harold K. Becker ("Female Gang Members: A Growing Issue for Policy Makers", Journal of Gang Research, Vol. 2, No. 4, Summer, 1995: 1-10) noted that "gang membership is predominantly male-oriented, 94 percent male and 6 percent female" (p. 5). Their study provided insight into Hispanic female gang members in the Los Angeles area.

Among other findings, the research noted: (1) female were more likely to want to be successful in life, (2) over half (61.1%) were from a two-parent family, (3) two-fifths (41.2%) had dropped out of school, and (4) while most believed in God (91%), only 18.4 percent attended church regularly.



This is another common scenario, particularly with level three gangs that recruit children. The youths find out that once in the gang, it is very hard to get out, in fact they simply try to slip away. But the gang knows where they live, and shows up looking for the kid. In one recent case, the kid was not at home, so when the gang members broke in, they simply shot his parents instead.

For female gang members who like in the case above, try to avoid taking their "outing" or violation for leaving the gang, that is a physical beating in a ritual ceremony, the same result happens to them as happens to male members. They will be targeted for worse violence. This happened in the case of 15-year-old Connie Ayala in Elgin, Illinois, where the gang put out an S.O.S. (Slaughter On Sight) order on her for not taking her beating to get out of the gang. Then one day on the street with her aunt, Connie was again attacked by female members of the gang, who ended up stabbing the aunt.

Gang members present a collateral risk to anyone who associates with them; this includes everyone, police officers simply standing by gang members on the street, kids who just hang with gang members, and in cases involving dating with gang members. In June, 1992 Victor Garcia, age 17, was convinced that he could join the gang if the gang could have sex with his girlfriend. Garcia agreed with this unique arrangement for his gang initiation ceremony in Chicago. The girl was subsequently lured to a party where the gang members lay in wait. She was then physically assaulted and repeatedly raped by four gang members until the following day when she was let go.


The incontrovertible and historically documented argument that exists across all cultures and is that a society is civilized to the extent to which it protects and provides for the nurturing of its young. Even wild animals protect and safeguard their young. But in America today, a parent has a right to be a bad parent, and parents generally want to deny responsibility for the acts of their underage children.

How then do we reconcile this cultural universal with the fact that no where in American society today will we find that it is against the law for adult gang leaders to systematically corrupt innocent children by attracting them and allowing them to join the gang? Our lack of any such laws stand in stark contrast to many other criminal codes that provide stiff sanctions for crimes against children --- harsher penalties for violence against, and the sexual exploitation of, children are now common place in all fifty states and the federal criminal code as well. Simple possession of child pornography can result in an automatic prison sentence. This type of law reflects the moral awakening of a society and its attempts to overcome the sexual exploitation of children.

But what laws do we have to prevent, even monitor, the gang exploitation of children? We have none. We have had laws dating back over twenty years making it a crime to "conscript" a person into the gang. This is also known as compelling gang membership. It means the person must join because they were intimidated to do so. But we do not have a single law, to the knowledge of the present author, which holds any adult gang leader accountable for systematically corrupting the values of the underage members, the children not of legal age, who become the new cannon fodder of almost every criminal gang in America today.

The highly trained gang expert knows that there is only one way to effectively suppress gangs in a society like our own: viewing the gang as an open-system, and counteracting on its ability to attract new members. The new members are always children. Underage teens and pre-teens. Adolescents. Even infants. A gang that cannot attract new members is a gang that will not survive, because as an open-system it will lose members by defection, death, and imprisonment.

American society makes it easy for a gang to flourish today. How? By enabling the gang to freely recruit new gang members from the ranks of American children at no legal risk --- civil or criminal. Some of the only statutes on the books in many jurisdictions are traditional "contributing to the delinquency of a child" laws. These are not easy to prove, and often have weak punishments (i.e., misdemeanor offenses typically). In this regard American gangs are proliferating and evil is triumphing because good citizens did nothing: nothing to protect the rights of children.

A child like "Yummy" is a case in point. This Chicago case gained instant international attention in 1994, when "Yummy" a member of the Black Disciples, a full eleven years old, was executed by his own gang for fear that he may testify against others in a gang-related killing. Yummy typifies how American society really looks after the rights of children. Those government agencies that are chartered "in the best interests of the child" allowed this eleven year old, and many more just like him of all ethnic groups in many places in America today, to basically fall through the cracks of public interests.

YUMMY: Executed At Age 11 By His Own Gang.

Robert Sandifer's gang name was "Yummy", because he loved to eat cookies. As a member of the Black Disciples gang, the BDs', he was "folks". But the BD's often fight with the GD's on the streets. In jail and behind bars they will routinely "group up" in a mutual assistance pact, to discourage attacks from their mutual enemies the "peoples" or "brothers" among African-American members of the Peoples gangs (Black P. Stones, Vice Lords, etc). Yummy hand a long criminal record at the time of his death, even though he died violently at the age of 11. A lot of newspapers and television news programs in the USA and abroad described the story of Yummy. A lot of versions of this story exist. It was the cover story in Time magazine for September 19, 1994. It was front page news in many areas of the country, and it was also international news.

Yummy had his own extensive record of arrests and convictions, including robbery and arson, but he was also a victim of child neglect and child abuse. Yummy got his name from the gang he joined, the Black Disciples, for his love of cookies and other sweets. On August 28, 1994, perhaps seeking an elevation in rank or other rewards from his gang, Yummy opened fire with a weapon supplied by the gang to shoot at a gang rival, he wounded his target but not fatally, but a stray bullet fired by Yummy killed an innocent bystander, and a child named Shavon Dean became added to the mounting toll of innocent bystanders killed by gang warfare in Chicago. The police manhunt ensued, the heat was on the gang, and the gang did what was expedient: they executed Yummy in a dark underpass. This is not uncommon for a gang to protect itself, for if Yummy talked, older adult leaders would be implicated. The gang had been hiding Yummy during the manhunt, so when it came time to execute him, they simply conned him into thinking that a car was waiting at the other end of the tunnel to take him out of state. Yummy entered the tunnel and was carried out by the coroner. Another expendable child used as cannon fodder by American gangs is the statistic Yummy represents, lured into the gang with candy money from gang business, manipulated as a young gang member, and then simply eliminated when by accidentally shooting an innocent victim he changed from an asset to a liability.


The gang attracts female gang members who have a history of abuse and abuses them further is what our data suggests. There are exceptions, but generally gang life for female members continues to pattern itself after an exploitive pattern of male chauvinism rather than providing genuine equal opportunity across gender lines. There are few female members in high command in level three gangs today, this remains a male business, open for female customers. At the high school level it is easy to find a significant difference by gender in the general population in terms of who has or who has not joined a gang: males predominate. However, our evidence from juvenile correctional populations using the confined juvenile as the unit of analysis, that is surveying these confined children themselves, revealed in a 1991 study of nearly two thousand detained juveniles that no significant difference existed in terms of the proportion who were gang members by gender. That is, inside juvenile institutions, when we ask the youths confined there if they have ever joined a gang, we will not find the difference we find in high schools out in larger society. What we will find in juvenile institutions when we ask the children themselves if they have ever joined a gang is convergence: about half of all males and females admit to such gang membership.

There are a number of factors that significantly differentiate the non-gang member from the gang member among female students surveyed in Chicago is also a major finding from this chapter. The female gang member profile is consistent with the hardening effect found among gang members generally: having been exposed to trauma, the person produces more trauma, and the cycle continues to play itself out. It is rare to have a happy ending to such a cycle, it is more likely one preprogrammed for a casualty in the making. So it is not uncommon that the cycle ends in the death of the player, or a long prison sentence.

Much more research is needed on female gang members and on very young gang members as what we have here appears to be the crime within a crime: the systematic exploitation of persons by criminal gangs. Crimes that never get reported because there is no one to report them too without great immediate danger. Your author has used some rather harsh language in this chapter, particularly calling the body of laws we call our own legal statutes as a fallacy when it comes to the protection of the rights of children. I shall not apologize for this slight against our policy makers until there are no more Yummy's and no more incentives for the adult gang leaders to use our Nation's children to do their bidding. We cannot continue with our head in the sand like an ostrich in this matter. Gangs are using children. We need to wise up.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were in the following scenario. You are a young student in a public school. Your principal and teachers routinely escort you and all the other students to the auditorium for another lecture on good citizenship. This time you hear a group of well dressed men addressing you in the audience of other school children and all the teachers, these men are surrounded by cameras and therefore obviously very important persons as well. The men tell you they represent a group called Truth Heals Urban Groups, they make speeches, everyone applauds. They hand out awards, and everyone is attentive. They do not hand out membership applications for their group, but would you consider joining too given that these men were so important that they commanded the respect and admiration of the principal and all other school staff, plus government elected officials, and others who appeared to be dignitaries? You might, just as some kids might be swayed and influenced by such messages.

How then to we interpret what happened in a Chicago Public High school? Gangs grandstanding, showing they control school infrastructures, showing they have their contacts in vital places, and that they are an acceptable lifestyle for children? Or do we take the most logically extreme redemptive explanation: these were not gang members at all, sure some awards were given out to what the government calls gang members (King Larry Hoover, leader of the Gangster Disciples, and Willie Lloyd, leader of the Unknown Vice Lords), but you cannot believe the media and certainly not what the government says about them, for these leaders claim to be doing something good for their communities, and if they say they have had a change of heart, well then we should have an open heart and listen to them, right? Wrong. You forgot about the children.

You might have that right to extend any amount of forgiveness you want to a gang leader, you might have that right to forgive by the book, the Great Book, 70 times 7, and then realize that the gang leader only has committed and been convicted of 489 crimes....so he should still be forgiven even if you were the victim of all of these offenses; you have that individual right to act upon whatever moral beliefs you want to believe in. But you do not have the right to communicate to children that gang members run the school, and that gang activists are such important people that the children begin to believe that what their parents may have said about gangs is all a lie, that joining a gang could be a good thing, they are not thugs, they are a group committed to the idea that Truth Heals Urban Groups or any other such non-sense that a cult or a gang might come up with.

The awards ceremony held in a Chicago public high school in October of 1993 was exactly as given in the scenario above. The students heard about a group called Growth and Development, and teachers reported that afterwards some students who had not been gang members now wanted to join that gang. Some 2,500 persons were in the assembly at the school auditorium, a lot of gang activists and all the school children, when two well known top gang leaders each received an award. If you were attending that school and shortly after joined the honored gang, then would your parents have a right to school the Chicago Public School system for facilitating not your educational growth and development but your membership in the Gangster Disciple gang?

Some gangs still continue today to conscript young children with the simple message: "join or die". The more common pattern is covert recruitment: the child is systematically cultivated, or "courted" as the gangs say, allowing the youth to come with on trips, and to parties, eventually growing closer and closer to a new group of "friends", until one day sometime early after gaining complete membership by an often violent ritual ceremony, the youth learns these are not friends at all, and it is very hard to actually quit. The enormous fear that gangs have instilled in children across our country has children now thinking about and planning their own funerals, kids fantasizing about what color patterns they want on their caskets. And few if any legal penalties await the adult gang leaders who benefit from the young new recruits who systematically replenish the membership base of gangs throughout the United States today. How many kids do we have bury, killed from gang violence, until we consider the rights of these children? What will it take to wake up complacent adults and have them recognize that their children have the right to live free from gang recruitment, indeed gang recruitment so systematic in some cases that it can include proselytizing the entire school assembly? The rights of children to live free from the fear of gang violence remains one of the most important and most neglected issues in the current debate about the gang problem in America today.


(1) In English literature, the older cunning criminal Fagin who used young hungry street children to steal and pickpocket on his behalf is actually a cultural universal. With the ability of adult gang members to manipulate children, should much stiffer legal provisions be enacted, "Fagin laws" or "Yummy protection" laws, whatever we want to call them? What language would you use in such a proposed amendment to your state criminal code? Write it and send it to your elected officials.

(2) Do you think that gangs attract alienated female members who may have a history of neglect and high risk behaviors, or do you think that the gang reinforces these traits?

(3) Is the violence that female gang members experience symptomatic of how women in general in our society are the targets of male violence? Does the gang simply provide a new vehicle by which to accomplish the exploitation of and violence against women?






The 1996 National Law Enforcement Gang Analysis Survey carried out by the National Gang Crime Research Center included a strict random sample of N = 283 municipal police departments from 48 states.

Three-Fourths Report Female Involvement in Local Gangs

The survey asked "are females also involved in the gangs in your area". Some three-fourths (74.7%) of the respondents indicated that females were in fact also involved in the gangs in their local gangs. So, three out of four cities in America, regardless of size are reporting the presence of at least some female gang members in their jurisdiction.

A separate follow-up question asked "if yes, estimate what percentage of the total gang member population in your jurisdiction are females". The results ranged from as low as zero percent to 50 percent. But the mean, or average, was that 11.4 percent of the gang members nationally were females.

So if we assume that females, nationwide, constitute about 10 percent of the total American gang population, that gives 150,000 female gang members under the best assumption that the total existing American gang population in 1998 is 1.5 million.

Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the NGCRC about this gang or some other gang that deserves an NGCRC “profile”? If so, mail your material directly to the NGCRC. The NGCRC routinely updates its gang profiles, and an important source of information are readers like you, so if you have something useful to share, please mail it to us this way, mail it and ship it by United States Postal Service to: Gang Profile/Threat Analysis Team, NGCRC, PO Box 990, Peotone, IL 60468-0990. You can do this and ask for full anonymity if you prefer.



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