1. In general, this Bulletin views a gang as an unsupervised group of youth that defines itself as a gang and develops its own norms and criteria for membership. Gang members are more responsive to peer socialization than to conventional agents of socialization, and the gang may become quasi-institutionalized (i.e., it may develop the capacity for self-perpetuation). This definition excludes hate groups, motorcycle gangs, and other exclusively adult gangs. The focus of this Bulletin is on female gangs. This term refers to gangs containing only female members: some of these gangs are autonomous and some are affiliated with male gangs. The term also refers to gangs that are controlled and dominated by females but that may include male members. The term “female gang members” refers both to individuals who are members of female gangs and to those who are members of gender-integrated gangs.

2. Although most early reports emphasized female gang members’ departure from conventional gender-role norms, a recent report from Chesney-Lind, Shelden, and Joe (1996) observed that the media produced a counterintuitive (and dubious) stereotype of female gang members as violent and out of control.

3. The long-term effects of economic restructuring are summed up in the title of W.J. Wilson’s 1997 book When Work Disappears. Industrial jobs were replaced by part-time or temporary work, with salaries that were often insufficient to support families. Under such conditions, the transition from adolescence to self-supporting adulthood became even more difficult for poorly educated young people than before.

4. One study of city characteristics found that the decline in manufacturing employment was strongly correlated with a rise in urban crime rates and number of gangs (Jackson, 1995).

5. This study offers a rare analysis of Asian female gangs. Most of the 13 female gang members in the study were either Hawaiian, Samoan, or Filipina. The authors indicated that ethnicity was a major organizing principle of the gangs (Joe and Chesney-Lind, 1995).

6. All of these studies involved African American, Mexican American, and Puerto Rican females.

7. A female gang member in Detroit, MI, commented that “the boys would get all the blame” for whatever the girls did (Taylor, 1993, p. 33).

8. Many jurisdictions count an offense as “gang related” if it is committed by a gang member. A few jurisdictions, like Chicago (see table), require a gang-related motive.

9. Status offenses include underage drinking, truancy, curfew violations, incorrigibility, and running away. These offenses would not be defined as offenses if committed by adults.

10. Neither the Los Angeles nor the Chicago source includes data on male gang arrestees. However, Block and colleagues (1996) found that in Chicago, between 1965 and 1994, drug offenses accounted for approximately 30 percent of arrests of both male and female gang members.

11. In these Mexican American gangs, heroin dealing was not an activity of the gang as a whole. Instead, individuals or pairs would go into business, and many hired fellow gang members.

12. Some researchers feel that Taylor’s portrayal of the changing role of female gang members in Detroit is offensive, arguing that it revives a stereotype of the “liberated female crook” dating from the mid-1970’s (Chesney-Lind, Shelden, and Joe, 1996). At that time, Adler (1975) contended that female criminality showed a new pattern of masculine-style violence and attributed this pattern to the egalitarian ideology of the women’s movement. However, later analysis showed that the premise underlying the idea (i.e., that violent offenses had increased among females) was erroneous (Steffensmeier, 1980). Unfortunately, the anecdotal nature of Taylor’s report makes it difficult to resolve this issue.

13. Another study of Mexican American gangs in Los Angeles also acknowledged the female gang’s deviant behavior, its drug culture, and its violence, arguing that females emulated the males (Harris, 1988). See also Hunt, Joe-Laidler, and MacKenzie (2000) for the importance of drinking (alcohol) in the daily lives of female gang members.

14. A social worker’s memoir of a year spent with a 12-member Puerto Rican female gang appeared earlier. Hanson (1964) reported both fighting and histories of early molestation, neglect, and abuse from family members and male gang members alike.

15. Other ethnic groups include white, Asian, and multiethnic gangs; all have been increasing. Surveys of law enforcement agencies in 1996 and 1998 showed more whites in gangs than before—14 and 12 percent (Moore and Terrett, 1998; National Youth Gang Center, 2000)—and a survey of eighth graders in 11 cities showed that 25 percent of all gang members were white (Esbensen and Osgood, 1997). The 1996 survey also reported that almost half of all gangs were multiethnic (Moore and Terrett, 1998), and the 1998 survey reported that 6 percent were Asian.

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Female Gangs: A Focus on Research Juvenile Justice Bulletin March 2001