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«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»

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Whilst the majority of respondents cited factors outside their home environment as being the most influential, even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary, a few indicated family factors as being pertinent. For those who did, several key themes emerged: the influence of gang-involved relatives, particularly a brother(s) and/or cousin(s), fatherlessness, domestic violence and the pent-up anger caused by parental neglect or abuse.

4.4.1 The influence of gang-involved relatives

Nineteen of the respondents interviewed had at least one relative involved in a gang or ‘on road’. The relative most likely to be involved was a brother (in ten cases) or a male cousin (in eight cases) but respondents also came from families where their fathers and uncles were ‘on road’.

Six young women had older brothers whose involvement in gangs had a significant influence on their own engagement ‘on road’ or with gang groups. These young women argued that they were ‘compelled’ to be part of the gang for two reasons: loyalty to the

brother or the status he held within the group. As 20-year-old Jennifer noted:

‘My brother is an elder member of a gang so that had a lot to do with it. We repped our area and cuz of my brother, I was immediately associated and I got involved.’ (African Caribbean, female, 18–24) Jennifer associated with her brother’s group from the age of 14 and, like the five other young women whose brothers were in gangs, fought for and supported them. Like Jennifer, Audrey’s brother, who was just a few years older, was a significant figure in forming her criminal career.

‘My brother would encourage me to do so much of it. When we used to be out he’d be like, “Look at that girl, don’t you like her chain?”, “Rob her!” or “That girl’s looking at you; fight her!” He used to encourage me to do these things all the time... I loved my brother, he was my role model and I wanted to be like him.’ (African Caribbean, female, 25+) It was her brother who introduced her to street robbery, selling weed and taking crack cocaine at the age of 14. Audrey went on to become an accomplished drug dealer and hustler with a career that spanned decades. Besides the young women, 13 young men had brothers with a history of gang involvement and as with the young women their siblings were instrumental in their becoming gang affiliated.

Two young people interviewed grew up in a family where the majority of adults, including mother, aunties and grandmother, were engaged in gang life in some way. The brothers felt they had little choice but to be involved in gangs. Coming from a family of ‘gangsters’, these young men felt that they were drawn into their families’ wars by virtue of birth, whether they liked it or not.

‘It was jist kin’ ay a body [one] ay those situations whaur you’ll groon up an’ wud see yer uncles fightin’ in th’ causey [street] an’ see them fightin’ in th’ streets mebbe wi’ firearms, an’ as a young bairn ye thooght, it was tough; that’s gangsters an’ that’s whair you’d loch [like] tae be... I looked up tae them.’ (William, white, male 25+) As young children, William and his brother Simon idolised their family members and wanted to emulate their behaviour but they realised as adults the consequences of being ‘born in’ a fighting family and the significant impact it had on them. It left them, as they believed, with

little choice. As the younger of the two brothers notes:

‘We wir brooght up in'’at. It wasn’t an option whair ye cud either say tae yerself ye didnae want anythin’ tae dae wi’ it.... it’s the “name thing”, it’s fa yoo’re related tae an’ whair yoo’re fae e’en though ye ne’er wanted anythin’ tae dae wi’ it.’ (Simon) Even though they were involved ‘on road’ some respondents said that their older ganginvolved relatives had attempted to discourage their involvement. With the benefit of hindsight, and armed with first-hand experience of the reality and consequences of being ‘on road’ or associated with a gang, the relatives actively sought to deter them.

Bradley, whose father and uncles were involved ‘on road’ in some capacity, described how they tried, unsuccessfully, to steer him clear of becoming involved.

‘They kind of try to deter you from doing it coz they know, and they can see the road that they’ve gone down. Erm, they want you to be tough, they want you to be able to stand up for yourself but I don’t think they want you to do what they’re doing.’ (Bradley) Despite the warnings, in his youth Bradley was affiliated to a well-known street gang. He did not become a ‘hustler’ like his father or uncles. His ‘road time’ was taken up mostly with fighting over ‘money, girls, clothes, drugs, respect, power all them sorts of reasons’.

4.4.2 Fatherlessness The absence of a father was cited by some, but by no means all, participants as the catalyst for their involvement in gang groups. The experience of being without a father was summed up for two people.

‘I kinda felt th’ loove Ah didn’t gie [get] fae me da. Ah thooght I’d fin’ it in me pals.’ (Christopher) ‘As I said, my dad wasn’t there. I remember callin’ my dad and saying, “Please can I come and live with you [mothers name] doesn’t want me?”... I remember my dad coming to the house and saying, “I haven’t got time; I haven’t got space in my house or life for you right now!” Them words hurt.’ (Audrey) Without a father figure at home these two young people and others went looking for validation and recognition from men in their community in the form of elders, peers or boyfriends.





In some ways the testimonies of respondents echoed the literature. For example, it was Clifton’s perception that because ‘women can’t raise a man’ young boys looked outside their families for men to emulate. What is interesting about Clifton’s statement is that he was one of several children, including boys, raised by a single mother. Without expressly referencing himself, Clifton was recalling his own experiences.

Following Clifton, Kai rationalised his gang membership in terms of his father’s absence.

Generalising his loss to others on road, he argued that:

‘Boys need a man at home to show them how to be a man. If they do not have this then they go looking elsewhere. Females need a man at home to show them how men should be and to advise them on how they are to be treated and respected by the men they meet.’ (Kai, African Caribbean, male, 25+) Kai’s statement is an illustration of the importance placed on having a father present in the lives of young people as they grow up. Kai’s father went missing from the family home during his formative years, which affected him. Kai was involved in two gangs and has a history of gang-related violent crime.

From the testimonies of these two men at least, young people, particularly young males, gravitated towards the road looking for some emotional investment from other men. Kai indicated that his gang membership was driven by two interconnected things: love and fear.

He went to the streets looking for ‘love’ from his peers; something he felt was missing from his life. According to him, this ‘love’ is expressed by ‘having someone’s back’, letting people sleepover when they have nowhere else to stay, sharing food and treating someone with respect. It is also the compassionate pat on the back that is given in hard times.

4.4.3 Domestic violence, abuse and neglect experienced in the home

Ten of those interviewed had grown up in families with drug and alcohol problems, and 15 had experienced domestic violence within the home. Typically these respondents were exposed to their parents’ drug-taking or had witnessed repeated violence against a mother

by a father (or step-father), a mother’s partner or, in the case of Gayle, her brothers:

‘I used to watch my mum get hit. I’ve got older brothers who have got schizophrenia and they would lash out on my mum and beating my mum.’ (Gayle, mixed race, female, 14–17) Gayle’s father had died when she was five years old and so she had spent a large proportion of her life in a household where her mum had to cope with three children, two of whom had mental health problems. Gayle describes being scared of her mother, but very fond of her brothers. She did not elaborate on what ‘scared’ meant but she did say that her fear stopped around Year 8 (aged 12) and it was then she started to ‘run about on road’.

Exposure to drug abuse or domestic violence varied significantly within the sample, with young women and Scottish young men reporting more incidences than their male London or West Midlands-based counterparts. For example, Andrula, Chesney, William, Simon and Fraser all grew up in families where one or both parents were addicted to Class A substances or alcohol and as a result experienced high levels of violence or neglect.

‘Basically, my mum was an alcoholic, prostitute druggie.... Growing up was a harsh struggle. We didn’t have electricity and hardly any food in the house.’ (Chesney, African Caribbean, female, 14–17) ‘It was bonnie tough [pretty tough], coz ma an’ dad whair on smack [heroin] an’ I had tae watch after mah wee brother most ae th’ time.’ (William) The harsh upbringing experienced by respondents had a significant impact on their physical and mental well-being and was noted as being a key factor in pushing them towards the streets.

‘Thair was a lot ae conflict in mah hoose atween mah ma an’ dad... When ah went ootwith [outside], ah be carryin’ aw th’ pressures an’ anger issues an’ takin’ ’at tae th’ streets.’ (William) ‘My dad being an alcoholic did have an effect on us. I started playing up at school and I got kicked out at the age of 14. It made me not wanna be at home and I used to go out a lot as I didn’t wanna be there when my dad was there. He would always be arguing and drunk. I spent a lot of time outside on the estate... this led me into other things which I shouldn’t have been getting in to.’ (Andrula, white, female, 25+) Like Fraser, these respondents described being ‘angry’, ‘fearful’, ‘resentful’ and ‘distrusting’ of adults and people in positions of authority because of the neglect and abuse they had suffered at the hands of their parents.

‘I grew up in an jakey [alcoholic] hame. Mah ma was blooter’d [drunk] all th’ time an’ mah da was violent an’ a lot ay violence cam mah way... Ah didnae troost anybody.

Ah didnae troost mah ain fowk [my own family]... Ah hud a total mistroost ay adults an’ fur th’ fowk fa [who] ur meant tae nurture yoong fowk. Whit it pure dun tae me was bred defiance. Ah was full ay fear as a wee yin [boy]. Ah didnae run mah life, fear ran it... an’ it put me in positions whair it was a negatife ootcome. Ah wuds rin abit [run about] in a gang stealin’ [and] shopliftin’, an’ fightin’. Ah was tryin’ tae gettae frae th’ hoose... Ah wasn’t comfortable in mah ain hoose.’ (Fraser, white, male, 25+) What Fraser is describing above is akin to what Jankowski refers to as ‘defiant individualism’ (Jankowski, 1991). Within the home he learnt the power of violence and the painful realisation that he could not rely on adults whose responsibility it was to care for and nurture him. Consequently, Fraser adopted a ‘defiant and aggressive personality’ and, like others, took to the streets to vent his frustration and rage by engaging in violent activities. In his interview Fraser made consistent links between his experience in the home and the harm that he inflicted on people.

Rodney also connected his anger at violent conditions within the home with his gang involvement. He attributed some of his offending, principally street robbery of people who had ‘pissed him off’, to the anger and frustration he had towards his father. He revealed that the motivation for his robbery was not material but psychological. The street robbery presented a way for him to vent his anger and deflect his powerlessness in relation to his father onto another target.

As children and young adults, both male and female respondents had not only experienced violence, but imprisonment (their own and that of significant others), attempted suicide, sexual violence and neglect within the home, yet few spoke about receiving any institutional help or support to help them resolve, psychologically, the feelings of frustration and anger evidenced here.



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