Young women and street gangs

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


Numerous gang scholars have become attentive to the importance of examining gender in the context of gangs (Bjerregaard and Smith 1993; Curry 1998; Curry and Decker 1998; Deschenes and Esbensen 1999a, 1999b; Esbensen and Deschenes 1998; Esbensen, Deschenes, and Winfree 1999; Esbensen and Winfree 1998; Fagan 1990; Hagedorn 1998), and a core group of researchers have dedicated themselves to understanding the lives of young women in gangs (Chesney-Lind and Hagedorn 1999; Fleisher 1998; Hunt, Joe Laidler, and MacKenzie 2000; Miller 2001; Moore 1991; Nurge 1998; Portillos 1999). In fact, contemporary research on girls in gangs has its roots in earlier foundational work; see Curry (1999) for an overview; see also Bowker, Gross, and Klein (1980); Bowker and Klein (1983); Brown (1978); Fishman (1995); Miller (1973); Moore (1991); and Quicker (1983). This early research is especially important to highlight because it tempers popular claims of "new violent female offenders" routinely depicted as young women in gangs (see Chesney-Lind 1993; Chesney-Lind, Shelden, and Joe 1996 for a discussion). From the available information, it appears that there has been both continuity and change in young women's participation in gangs. However, overall, the proportion of gang members who are girls and the nature of girls' gang involvement do not appear to have shifted substantially over the years (Klein 2001; Moore 1991). Research from this earlier era shows that while there was variation in young women's gang involvement, girls were actively involved in violence, most often fi ghting. In addition, their place in gangs was never as mere "tomboys" or "sex objects." Instead, girls' roles and activities in gangs were negotiated, with varying results, in the context of male-dominated settings. In the contemporary era, scholarly concern with young women's gang involvement has grown substantially. In part this is because of the growth in gangs in the 1980s and early 1990s and the tremendous growth in gang research during this period. Recent estimates suggest that there are now more than twentythree hundred cities and towns across the United States reporting gangs-more than fi ve times the number that existed as recently as 1980 (Egley and Major 2004; see also Klein 1995). The good news is that the number of jurisdictions reporting gang problems has declined 32 percent since 1996, although this decline appears to be concentrated among smaller cities and rural counties. Larger cities and suburban counties consistently account for the largest proportion (around 85 percent) of reported gang members, and these numbers have not declined appreciably (Egley and Major 2004). The growth in gangs and gang research, however, does not account entirely for the scholarship research on girls in gangs. Instead, the move away from a primarily androcentric approach to the study of gangs is in large part because of the expansion of feminist criminology and its requisite attention to the experiences of women. Just as gang research has increased considerably in the last several decades, so has the number of feminist scholars within the discipline of criminology. As a consequence, young women's gang involvement is just one area of research on offending and victimization that has benefi ted from attention to the importance of understanding gender. So then, what have we learned in the last two decades? For starters, we have come to recognize that young women's involvement in youth gangs is a varied phenomenon. Girls' experiences in gangs and the consequences of their gang involvement vary by-among other things-their ethnicity, the gender composition of their gangs, and the community contexts in which their gangs emerge. This chapter provides an update of our knowledge about girls in gangs, particularly focusing on four issues: 1. The level of female gang involvement 2. The risk factors for gang membership and girls' pathways into gangs 3. The level and character of gang girls' delinquency and its context in gang life for girls 4. The consequences of gang involvement for girls, including both victimization risks within gangs and long-term costs associated with gang involvement This discussion draws from a wide range of studies to emphasize the comparisons that can be drawn across research methodologies, study sites, ethnicities, and gang structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Delinquent Girl
PublisherTemple University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9781592139514
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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