Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sue Scheff: Girls in Gangs

“He wanted me to sell drugs. I’m like, ‘no I can’t do it, you know, I want to be a doctor when I grow up, and I don’t want to get in any trouble.’”

– ChanTrell, Age 16

The Office of Juvenile Justice has some good news for us and some bad: according to the latest numbers, from 2005 to 2007, the arrest rate for boys went down four percent, but for girls it’s up 10 percent. Experts say one reason is more girls are joining gangs.

In the small park, there are swing sets, a small stream, and dozens of families with small children playing. It is the park where Roger Raney’s 18-year-old daughter allegedly took part in a gang murder.

He still wonders why. “I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out why but I have no clue, honestly,” Raney says.

But there were clues. When his daughter was 13, he noticed gang-related graffiti and tattoos. “In her room, papers, notebook, just all over really.”

But he thought it was just posing, just a joke. Now Roger and thousands of other parents realize it’s no joke at all. The idea of girls being gang members is no longer far-fetched.

According to the National Youth Gang Survey, there are 800,000 active gang members in the U.S. And over six percent are female, that’s 50,000 girls.

And new “recruits” are being propositioned every day.

Sixteen-year-old ChanTrell was approached. “He wanted to sell drugs. I’m like, ‘no I can’t do it. I want to be a doctor when I grow up, and I don’t want to get in any trouble.’”

“It’s not just what most people would consider the poor sections or less affluent sections. They’re everywhere,” says psychologist and gang expert Dr. Stephen Mathis.

Experts say girls join gangs for the same reason boys often do. “It’s all about acceptance,” says youth counselor Irving Carswell, “You know, ‘I want to be a part of’… and we have to take alternative measures…as parents and say ‘you don’t have to be a part of that.’”

And if your child is lonely, just moved to a new school or a new town, explain how gangs really work. “A kid often trades loneliness and isolation or whatever the kid’s feeling inside for an initial attraction for unconditional acceptance when in fact the conditions are very, very conditional,” says Mathis.

Conditions like selling drugs, even committing murder.

“Parents and teens need to somehow keep a bond,” Roger Raney says, “and not have a distance come between them, because it’s hard to repair it once it goes away.”

Tips for Parents

According to the Southwest Missouri Interagency Task Force on Gangs and Youth Violence, possible signs of gang involvement include:

■Skipping school
■Violent acts
■Disregard for persons or property
■Dress changes
■Unexplained extra money or expensive purchases

To help prevent your child from becoming a gang member, the SMI Task Force offers these suggestions:

■Arrange for adult supervision of teen’s and children’s activities
■Help the teen or child become involved in athletics or other group activities
■Set reasonable rules and consistently enforce them
■Hold family meetings and keep the lines of communication open
■Educate the child about the dangers of gang involvement
■Provide a strong religious background
■Be aware of changes in your child’s life
■Practice mutual respect with your child

■Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention
■Southwest Missouri Interagency Task Force on Gangs and Youth Violence