When she was 11-years-old, Girl X started dating a 14-year-old boy. He was in a gang. When she was 12 they had sex, which he secretly filmed. He threatened to post it on social networking websites. Terrified, she begged him not to do it. He agreed not to share the footage, on one condition: she must always be available to both him and any other gang member for sex. She was so scared at what her family and friends would think of her if they saw the video. She agreed.
From this moment on, Girl X’s life descended into one of regular abuse and sexual exploitation. She was raped on a weekly basis. Many of these crimes were filmed and played back to her by her rapists.
This is one of many horrifying stories the Centre for Social Justice heard when interviewing current and former gang members, and frontline gang charities for our report Girls and Gangs, published yesterday.
The Children’s Commissioner found that 2,409 children and young people were victims of child sexual exploitation by gangs and groups between August 2010 and October 2011. This is widely believed to be a conservative estimate. In a recent study, 96 young people with connections to gangs were asked if they could identify examples of ‘multiple perpetrator rape’. A third could.
Sexual exploitation is not the only hazard of gang life for girls and young women. We were told how girls stash guns and carry drugs on behalf of gangs. One frontline charity told us of girls as young as eight being dressed up in school uniforms to make it look like their father was taking them to school. In fact, they had drugs stashed inside of them and were being used as couriers in a drugs trade.
How police conduct stop-and-search may be making this worse. Of those searched in 2011/12 in gang-affected areas, 95 per cent were male. Because girls are less likely to be stopped, they are also less likely to get caught carrying illegal items. We heard how this puts pressure on girls to carry guns and drugs in gangs.
There is much to be done to tackle this problem. Everyone – from the Home Office to gang charities – needs to work together to better understand how wide and deep this problem goes. We need to replicate the excellent work of King’s College Hospital and get youth workers embedded in more A&E departments in gang-affected areas to spot girls being subjected to violence and support them to leave gang life behind.
Doing nothing is not an option. Gang life is blighting the lives of too many girls and young girls. What we have uncovered should make policy makers and community leaders respond with new urgency to rescue girls from this brutal underworld.