Family and Abuse Characteristics of Gang-Involved, Pressured-to-Join, and Non–Gang-Involved Girls

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Abstract

Objective:

Gang membership among adolescent girls is an understudied phenomenon, despite the fact that these young girls are on a pathway to continued involvement in antisocial behavior. Using a large school-based sample, this was one of the first studies to contrast risk factors of female gang involvement for girls who are pressured to join but resist gang membership versus those who are gang-involved.

Method:

Female adolescents from a Midwestern county (n = 7,513; 7th – 12th grades) self-reported whether they were currently or had been a member of a gang, whether they had been pressured but resisted gang involvement, or whether they had no current or past gang involvement. Self-report measures assessed family conflict, family gang involvement, delinquency, aggression, a history of sexual/physical abuse, and whether they had run away or had been kicked out of their home.

Results:

Females involved in gangs reported a significantly greater history of running away from home, family gang involvement, and greater levels of aggressive and delinquent behaviors than girls with no gang involvement. Gang-involved girls experienced greater levels of sexual abuse, family conflict, and less parental monitoring compared with the pressured-to-join group.

Conclusions:

Sexual abuse, family conflict, and low parental monitoring appear to differentiate girls who join a gang versus those girls who are recruited but resist. Thus, adults and professionals working with girls who are at-risk for gang involvement should assess potential sexual abuse and family conflict in the home. Professionals working directly with gang-involved girls should provide opportunities for these young women to safely address their trauma history before engaging in efforts to change behaviors.

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