Thousands of girls and young women are associated with these gangs but at present local authorities don't collect data on the number of so-called 'gangster girls' in Britain, instead focusing on typical gang members, most of whom are male. Official statistics do show, however, that although women are still statistically far less likely to be involved in crime than men, that gap is narrowing. The latest Home Office figures from reveal that over , teenage girls or women were arrested.
Almost one in three of those arrests were for violent attacks. Over the past decade, this has risen from one in five. In , the annual arrests of teenage girls and women reached a record level of more than , Today, women still account for one in six of the arrests made men and women for violent attacks.
The typical image of a UK gang member: Last year a play called "She" tackled the myths around girls in gangs. More and more women are involved in violent crime and yet we are still reluctant to address it. Just think back to the London riots in The dominant images were of angry men. And yet women actually had a significant presence during the riots, according to some accounts. What is women's role in gangs?
Much of what is written about women in gangs portrays them as victims. 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. 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. The rise of the 'gangster girl' Camila Batmanghelidjh runs one of London's largest children's charities, Kids Company, which works with some 18, 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? 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. The play 'She' last year encouraged girls to break their silence on gang culture Photo: Graeme Braidwood 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. The pathway is a brutalisation pathway; witnessing and having to get involved in violating other girls or boys. 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: A gangster girl goes and dresses like a man.
One of them brave ones. Cause to be in a gang, you have to have them skills, gang skills innit So some girls have a talent to that, to say no, innit, and they will still respect them Cause for a girl to be in a gang she has to be like a man. When girls go it alone In recent years, girls and young women are even forming breakaway girl-only gangs. It is a view backed by experts. In what can only be described as the dark side of female empowerment, Dr Baffour compares women's thirst for 'making it' on the streets to women's desire to climb their way up the career ladder in a corporate boardroom.
It's that sense of achievement. Running a girl gang can give them a sense of pride. She may also be acting like a man to get ahead — she's not always being herself in a mixed gang. In many ways this is similar to the barriers women face in the corporate workplace.
In the invisible, unexplored world of gang culture in Britain, it seems the power struggle between men and women also exists, only it manifests itself in terms of violence and crime. Take this account from an 18 year-old woman interviewed for the Bedfordshire university report: I dunno why, it was like I saw myself as a boy, one of them, I dunno why Batmanghelidjh, who has been working with vulnerable children for over 30 years, says "girls are increasingly mimicking the strength of boys".
This includes carrying firearms, knives and taking part in attacks, as well as looking like boys. As this 18 year-old woman, interviewed by researchers from the University of Bedfordshire, explains: Looking back to the London riots, Batmanghelidjh says that the only difference in the way men and women behaved was down to physical strength.
Youths loot a Carhartt store in Hackney during the London riots "The boys broke the shop screen with their legs and bodies. They've got the physicality to be able to do that. When they'd done that, the girls stepped in. There's a physical difference between boys and girls but there's no intentional difference. Girls are just as capable of immense brutality. But the women weren't far behind them.
When it comes to intention, mentally, girls are just as capable of violence or extreme violent acts as boys, Batmanghelidjh says. Acknowledging the facts It follows that for any government to try and deal with the rise of girl gangsters — and gang culture in Britain — they should stop looking at it through outdated stereotypes that all girls are victims and all boys are perpetrators.
Knife crime is a 'reality for some' "For the bulk of these kids, it's not actually about wanting to violate another human being, it's about acquiring a reputation for great harm, so you can be safe.
The primary driver for most children — boys and girls — in joining gangs is seeking safety. She wants to see the Government collect better information about the number of girls in gangs to help identify those young women in need of support and intervention at an earlier stage. The opportunity for gang members to speak to someone is paramount, whether it be a teacher they trust or get on well with, or a community expert.
We mustn't give up on young society; no child is born bad. Aside from "stereotypical assumptions around femininity and a consequent expectation that girls shouldn't go those type of things", our failing to address the issue results in part from a "reluctance to have to accept that we, as a society, have failed young people if they feel gangs are the best option available to them". Not least to help those involved find a new way of life, but because if we fail to do anything, the situation will only get worse and more "well cared-for" children will be caught up in gang warfare too, she says.
The drugs war is coming to the home counties. Pockets of neighbourhoods have huge numbers of [gang members]. It's going on right under our noses.