New report: fresh thinking needed to support women and girls involved in serious youth violence

Specialist services and policies targeting women and girls involved in gangs are needed to help reduce and prevent youth violence, a new report by Race on the Agenda (ROTA) says today.

The Female Voice in Violence report draws on face-to-face research with 352 friends, relatives, victims or perpetrators of gangs and gang violence. Ranging in age from 13-52, the experiences of these women and girls highlight lessons for policy makers and those working to prevent serious youth violence.

The research highlighted concerns about the lack of appropriate services available to those females caught up in gangs, the use of sexual violence by gang members, and the impact of serious violence on their sexual and mental health.

Key findings include:

  • Very little support is targeted at women and girls involved in gangs, with any female-specific services usually the initiative of individuals rather than planning or policy.
  • Girls involved with gang members often live outside of known gang-affected areas, and may hold firearms, drugs or money for their boyfriends.
  • Rape, sexual violence and exploitation are significant weapons used against women and girls associated with, or involved in, gangs.
  • Convicted female gang members are often held with boys outside of mainstream schools, severely limiting their ability to deal with their offending behaviour and reduce their victimisation.
  • Little intelligence exists to quantify the numbers of women and girls affected by gang violence.

The report assesses the role and effectiveness of statutory and voluntary sector services, especially women's groups and those working with black and minority ethnic communities, in helping those involved with gangs.

It highlights ways of supporting women and girls to exit the lifestyle and culture of serious violence – whether as sisters, mothers or girlfriends of gang members, or gang members themselves. The role of local, regional and national policy in supporting this agenda is also examined.

Dr Theo Gavrielides, Chief Executive of ROTA, said: "This research does not seek to justify serious youth violence, or excuse women for any role they may play in it. Rather, it argues that the UK will fail in its attempts to address serious youth violence unless it works meaningfully with women and girls, recognising their specific needs and different levels of involvement and victimisation."

"Women and girls affected by serious youth and gang violence have been largely ignored in both policy and practice. If we don't get this right, we risk increasing the victimisation and isolation of gang-affected women and girls."

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: "We have put a range of measures in place to help prevent young people getting involved in gangs and serious violence – support in schools, targeted youth work in areas most at risk of serious youth violence and an ongoing drive to give young people positive activities, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights."

"But we know there is more to do, which is why the Government will shortly publish new guidance for everyone working with children and young people to help them identify those at risk. The guidance is clear that professionals need to look out for signs regardless of gender, age and background to ensure that every young person is supported to prevent their involvement in gangs or serious violence."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "Gangs who exploit vulnerable young women often lure them into a vicious cycle of crime. I took the early decision in London to help female offenders gain the skills, counselling and support they need to turn their lives around. These girls are often horribly abused and overlooked by many services. I'm also providing support for three new Rape Crisis Centres and safeguarding a fourth where victims can get immeasurable help to rebuild their lives. Greater action is needed to stop these women falling under the radar. For me, there is no greater priority than tackling the causes of youth crime and giving young people the confidence to choose real positive alternatives."

Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor of London (Policing), will give the London response later today at the launch.

The findings have been discussed in closed roundtables with high level representatives from the police, local authorities, elected representatives and community/voluntary groups across London. This work has led to a number of recommendations, which include:

  • Child protection strategies and guidance should be reviewed to ensure they consider specific risks associated with females and serious youth violence, including sexual violence against under-18s.
  • Serious youth violence policy and practice should be reviewed to ensure it recognises and acknowledges women and girls in their own right.
  • The Corston Review should be replicated for girls under the age of 18 held in establishments that cater for a predominantly male population.
  • Policy development and funding across the statutory and voluntary sectors should take into account serious youth violence as a key issue for women and girls.
  • Services for women and girls affected by serious youth violence should be specific to their needs.


Notes to Editors

  1. Race on the Agenda (ROTA) is one of the UK's leading social policy think tanks focusing on race equality and issues that affect Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
  2. Hard copies of the report are available at £25 each. Please contact Liz Carr.
  3. The Female Voice in Violence (FVV) project develops ROTA's award winning 'Building Bridges' Project, a youth-led investigation into gangs and weapon use in London. The FVV research was conducted during 2008 and 2009 throughout London and consisted of one-to-one interviews, group interviews, discussions with specialist services and roundtables and surveys with BAME and generic women's organisations. ROTA has worked in partnership to deliver this report.
    After this fieldwork, roundtable discussions took place to develop policy recommendations. These were held in Enfield, Hackney, Islington, Lewisham and Southwark, with a pan-London meeting hosted by the Greater London Authority. A further roundtable with central government departments was hosted by the Government Equalities Office.
    ROTA is now developing its FVV Coalition to take forward the recommendations of the report. A national research programme is also underway, collecting evidence from Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. A further report will follow.
    This work is delivered under the umbrella of ROTA's 'Winning the Race' project, funded by the BASIS Big Lottery Fund. The national research programme is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Home Office is sponsoring the launch event.

Supported by The National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund