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Girls and gangs: ‘dark issues’

28 March 2014

xlp

Screen saver: the ITV presenter Nina Hossain, and Ed Boyd, from the CSJ, at the conference at All Hallows-on-the-Wall on Monday

Screen saver: the ITV presenter Nina Hossain, and Ed Boyd, from the CSJ, at the conference at All Hallows-on-the-Wall on Monday

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 you.'"

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 hospital.

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 inequality.

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."

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