«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
In Scotland, one sibling was involved in local gangs and reciprocal violence whilst his sister studied for university and tried hard to assist him to leave his criminal lifestyle. This is also often a gendered process and, as the literature on girl gangs attests, female involvement in gangs is rare in the UK. All the families here are reflecting exclusively on male involvement in the gang, and in both Scotland and England there were several families where the sisters were legitimately employed or studying at university whilst their brothers were ‘on road’ (Young, 2011) The literature on gangs also argues that although gang membership may afford a certain degree of safety (while generating ‘perks’ for families of gang members), gang members are significantly more likely to be victimised than non-gang-involved individuals (Thornberry,
1998) and their families are more likely to experience threats and violent victimisation (Fagan, 1999). As in the previous section, much of the violence experienced by family members was internecine, due to criminal disputes or disputes over territory. However, and in contrast to the previous section, there was no evidence of families of gang members being targeted in revenge attacks. Instead, the violence was confined to friends and associates of the gang member.
On the other hand, family involvement in gangs and criminality could provide instigation for further incidents and, although the families did not speak about the influence of the family in their child’s decision to enter the gang, it is noticeable that several of the families experienced more than one sibling becoming involved in gang life. These respondents did not acknowledge that family dynamics played any part in this process but instead blamed young people’s involvement on the pervasiveness of road culture and the economic disadvantage in the area, both of which made it hard for young men not to be ostracised unless they participated in petty criminality. Given the evidence from the other sections, it is possible that some family members were being defensive and did not want to admit complicity in their family’s offending.
There is some suggestion here of the tacit acceptance of criminality although, given the legal difficulties of admitting to enjoying the proceeds of crime in a taped interview, it is unsurprising that not too much was admitted. However, it is likely that the majority (if not all) of family members were aware of their offspring’s criminal activity. Given the evidence elsewhere in the report, it is worth noting that several family members were looking back with hindsight and it is possible that at the time of their offspring’s offending they may not have been cognisant of it. The respondents spoke about seeing their children involved in violent incidents, or of finding drugs or suspiciously expensive items in their bedrooms.
Their tacit acceptance of this behaviour is suggested by the absence of any consequential action (they do not mention talking to social services or speaking to the police). It is also
clear that several family members enjoyed the privileges of criminal lifestyle:
‘He brought me a very nice gift. He brought me an iPad recently, I was thinking, he doesn’t work so where does he get this money from? I’m working and I can’t afford it, so where does he get it from? I chose not ask. I can’t be bothered with argument.
Just take it and be quiet. I don’t want no argument.’ (Sister of gang member) In Scotland the criminality seemed to revolve around territorial violence and enjoying intoxicated leisure. This does not bring any financial benefits to families and it is unsurprising that the families were less likely to receive financial or material benefits and were more condemning of their relatives’ behaviour. Here, there were examples of parents reporting their sons’ violent activities to the police. On balance, in England but not in Scotland, it does seem that families associated with gang members do benefit from their criminal activity. However, as research in the UK and the USA demonstrates, the actual financial benefit from this type of low-level criminality is relatively limited (Hallsworth and Silverstone, 2009; Levitt and Dubner, 2005).
5.2.1 The relationship between gang members and their family members ‘It is difficult for a lot of us mothers. We are just waiting for the phone call. Every weekend that comes we know or we expect to hear a phone call that somebody has been stabbed, somebody had been beaten up or somebody is dead.’ (Mother of a gang member) ‘I remember a time when one of his friends got badly beaten up … and this is what caused a rift between me and him because the guys did it to him I knew them ….this got between our relationship because of the people who beat up his friend, I knew and they were ok with me.’ (Sister of gang member) The overriding experience of gang involvement for family members was stress and worry.
Mothers in particular worried about the safety of their children and worried for the future of young men in their communities more generally. In Scotland, a mother commented ruefully that whist her daughter joined the army and served in Iraq, her son became ensnared in the local criminal culture and was the one she worried about at night. The quotations above are typical, with several respondents stating that criminal activity had had a detrimental effect on relationships between siblings and parents. This is hardly surprising since being an active gang member exposes the participant to violence and also the risk of arrest. Family members had experienced both gang-involved relations being arrested in their homes and gang members coming home after being physically attacked and neither were pleasant.
Although some members knew that relatives who were criminally active could offer them some protection and could act to ‘squash’ or dissipate disagreements, this protection was not valued highly.
Although Bourgois (1995) and Miller (2001) identified prolific family violence, in particular sexual violence, experienced by gang members, incidences of domestic violence did not feature in any of these interviews. Overall, from the interviews here the overwhelming feeling was that gang involvement increased the stress in the family and also increased the distance between the family member who was involved in gangs and their non-ganginvolved family members. This stress was felt particularly keenly by mothers, who were already struggling with many of the social and economic problems which confronted their children. Mothers spoke movingly of seeing their children struggle with the impact of mental and physical disabilities, parental intoxication, bereavement and separation. Clearly, these events impacted on them too and some acknowledged that they were or had been clinically depressed. At least two mothers spoke about the professional stigma attached to their children’s involvement with gangs. This was especially acute for them as they worked with, or alongside, the police and criminal justice agencies. Having children ensnared in local criminal cultures added another level of disruption, stress, anxiety and even ill-health, to what were often already beleaguered lives.
‘I have seen a big change in him … he talks to me more about it. Like I know he drinks and he knows that I know he drinks but he’ll not drink in front of me.’ (Mother of a gang member) Despite the stresses families experienced during their children’s involvement with gang life, relationships were sustained. Although several families had given ultimatums to relatives regarding their living arrangements and insisted that if their disruptive behaviour continued they would have to leave home, ultimately all the families were still in contact with each other and most still shared a home. Therefore, during and especially after family members desisted from crime, family members were there to support them. Mothers and siblings reported that relationships improved as gang life dissipated.
’’Erm but he’s still … I think it … we’ve got a good relationship now, you know and … he definitely will come and speak to us about anything. And he’ll come and speak to me about wee things now and he knows that he can have that conversation with you, but has no other expectations of you than to be listening and give him my opinion.’ (Sister of gang member)
5.3 Coping strategies ‘The only thing that I can do personally for him is to take him out of the area.’ (Mother of gang member) The key coping strategy that emerged most strongly from these interviews was moving or sending the relative away from the area. Family members recognised the lack of economic opportunities in their local area and were aware of the intensity of contact and conflict generated by feelings of territoriality and criminal involvement, and so developed a sense that their relatives were out of control.
‘If I had resources – I’d leave the country, to be honest, take my family and move out of the country. Cos I don’t see it getting any better.’ (Mother of gang member) Family members encouraged their relatives involved in gang violence to move away to live with relatives such as grandparents or siblings in areas where the gang member did not know, or was not known by, those of a similar age. For those families who did not have the
resources to do this, the desire to move from the area was strongly expressed:
‘There is no one to help them, there is no one. The government is not really helping them.’ (Sister of gang member) There was a significant divide between the respondents in relation to their access to formal services. Despite the plethora of new government and third-sector initiatives, those in England (Home Office, 2011) did not access relevant services, whilst those in Scotland had accessed a wide range of services, from charitable organisations such as Gingerbread to CAMHS, social work support, counselling and psychologists. It is not clear from the interviews if this difference is to do with the ethnic composition of the sample with those from minority communities feeling excluded from formal services (Bhui, 2002) or whether this is simply a matter of geography and/or the vagaries of a small sample.
The experience of using local services where it occurred was mixed. However, most families spoke about the positive impact social workers and caring professionals made on their lives, even if they acknowledged that they were reluctant to engage or found it hard to get access. The intervention of local services combined with the provision of employment or apprenticeships was the route most often accessed out of the current quagmire. The respondents were united in their less than positive experiences of criminal justice practitioners, most glaringly the police service.
‘I phoned the police and then the police came and, er, nothing ever happened, I never heard anything happened, and I think the police was called about 20 odd times, the wardens were called about the same as well.’ (Mother of victim of gang violence) Respondents commonly voiced two negative types of experience: first, a despondency and dismay that when their relations had been attacked, the police failed to protect them and/or failed successfully to prosecute those responsible for inflicting the serious violence (in all the cases mentioned here the prosecutions failed at the evidential stage). Secondly, they complained that police officers had been unprofessional or corrupt in their encounters with
‘Jewellery went missing from the house and items went missing from the house. You know I have lived in the black community for many years, when I was a kid I used to go to the blues, the police used to go round the back, smoking the draw and eating the food.’ (Mother of gang member) Finally, the majority of respondents were disparaging of the lack of facilities for local young men. The absence of football clubs or playing fields was mentioned as significant by some Scottish respondents. Parents felt the lack of outdoor spaces deprived their children of the opportunity to play with their peers in a competitive but non-violent way.