GIRLS as young as eight who are carrying drugs, and boys as
young as 12 who are committing rape are "dark issues" that
Christians must have the courage to confront, the head of an
organisation behind a new report on gangs said this week.
The report, Girls and Gangs, published on Sunday, was
produced by the Centre for Social Justice and the charity XLP. It
exposes a "parallel world that too few policy-makers understand",
in which young women are carrying weapons, enduring violence, and
exposed to sexual exploitation. On Tuesday, the chief executive of
XLP, Patrick Regan, said: "Younger and younger kids are involved,
carrying weapons at such a young age. You are getting kids at 12
performing sexual acts as part of gang initiation. We are seeing
the normalisation of violence. We asked one girl: 'What makes for a
good relationship?' and she said it was 'When someone does not hit
The report is based on interviews with girls and young women who
are, or have been, associated with gangs; and with more than 30
organisations that work with gangs. The authors emphasise, however,
that "One of the most concerning aspects of girls in gangs is how
little we really know."
It suggests that girls associated with gangs can be offered
support, including admission to A&E departments. Both King's
College Hospital and St Thomas' Hospital, in London, have "embedded
youth-workers" who speak to young women while they are in
The report was discussed on Monday at a conference at All
Hallows'-on-the-Wall, in the City of London. One of the speakers
was Carlene Firmin, who heads MsUnderstood - a partnership between
the University of Bedfordshire; a black feminist organisation,
Imkaan; and the project Girls against Gangs - which seeks to
improve responses to young people's experiences of gender
On Tuesday, Ms Firmin said: "My focus is very much on how we try
to change the environment that children live in, to make them safer
rather than simply hoping that children themselves will change."
This would involve a "whole range of things", from planning a
police presence to supporting schools, and working with "whole
peer-groups instead of individual children".
Mr Regan said that there was a "desperate need for early
intervention. Some of this behaviour around sexual activity and
negative peer-pressure begins in primary school, and we need to
look . . . not just at going in and talking about sex, but looking
at gender equality, and how that works.
"When did we as a society think it was acceptable to leave these
girls in these situations? We need to have the courage to face
these darker issues, particularly as people of faith, who should
have a bias for those on margins of society, as Jesus did."