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The vast majority of young people are not involved in gangs and want nothing to do with them. However, the behaviour of the small number of young people who are involved has a significant impact on communities, on their families and associates, as well as themselves.

Young people join gangs for reasons which make sense to them, if not to adults. Some reasons why young people may join a gang are:

  • Respect and status
  • To gain friends
  • A sense of belonging
  • Excitement
  • To find a substitute family
  • Power
  • Protection
  • Money
  • Peer pressure

Gangs often leave signs of their presence and your child might adopt some of these signs; either as a member or as an associate of a gang. Any sudden changes in your child’s lifestyle should be discussed.

Signs may include:

  • Specific dress style
  • Poor behaviour
  • Talking differently – new slang or language with an aggressive tone
  • Poor school results or skipping school
  • Carrying weapons
  • Unexplained injuries or sums of money/possessions
  • Staying out unusually late
  • Graffiti style tags on possessions Interest in music which glorifies weapons/gang culture
  • Gangs will often have profiles on social or networking websites like Facebook or Twitter

Girls can be affected by gangs, but their involvement may be harder to spot. They may be asked to hide weapons or drugs, or be targeted by male gang members in acts of revenge or gang initiations. All of this tends to go on ‘behind closed doors’. Girls who are linked to gang members (sisters, girlfriends, friends, cousins, daughters) as well as female gang members themselves, are at risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence. Many girls who are involved with gangs may believe that what they are being pressured, forced or choosing to do is acceptable, even normal. They may not realise that what is happening to them is wrong; they may be afraid of what might happen if they tell anyone and/or they may think that no one will believe or protect them.

Some signs that a girl you know might be involved with a gang include:

  • Changes in physical appearance (for example wearing more ‘adult’ clothes, or wearing baggy clothes and no make up)
  • Unexplained money or possessions
  • Getting involved in fights
  • Committing crimes such as shoplifting
  • Regularly staying out late or going missing from home
  • Abusing drugs and/or alcohol
  • Physical injuries (which may indicate violence from others and/or self-harming)
  • Refusing to seek medical help for such injuries and becoming fearful and/or withdrawn and/or prone to unexplained outbursts of anger

Committing crime and ending up with a criminal record will affect the rest of your life. Having a criminal record can prevent a young person getting a job, going to university or college, or even travelling abroad.

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