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Female Gang Involvement in a Midwestern City: Correlates, Nature and Meanings

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 1996
453 pages
This study explored various facets of gang involvement among young women in Columbus, Ohio, including the factors that correlate with gang involvement by girls; the structures, nature, and activities of gangs that young women join; and the gendered meanings and roles within these groups.
Interviews were conducted with 46 girls (21 gang and 25 non-gang), all of whom lived in areas of the city in which they had at least minimal exposure to gangs. The survey instrument developed for the study is a variation of several instruments currently being used in conjunction with longitudinal and cross-sectional research in a number of U.S. cities. The questionnaire is broadly based, covering a number of factors that the literature suggests may be related to gang membership among youth in general and girls in particular. Questions pertain to reasons for joining or not joining a gang, the structure of gangs joined, and gang activities. Findings show that gang members were significantly more likely to have been sexually abused and were significantly more likely to report having multiple sexual partners in the last years. Gang members were also significantly less likely to report that marriage and motherhood are important to them, indicating less adherence to traditional feminine values. A significant new finding of this study is that female gang involvement in Columbus primarily involves girls' participation in integrated mixed-gender groups rather than in auxiliary subgroups or in autonomous all-female gangs. The study provides in-depth evidence of the gender dynamics of primarily African-American gangs. The women in this study believed in their equality within the gang, while at the same time describing and often supporting unequal gender structures and the exploitation of females. Suggestions are offered for future research, and implications of the findings are drawn for social policy. 8 tables, 156 references, and appended interview questionnaire

Date Published: December 1, 1996