Why don’t we see these girls?

In December 2018, I returned to the airwaves and shared some of the findings from my research on BBC Woman’s Hour.

One of the biggest revelations was the inconsistency across police in identifying women and girls and capturing them (and their risk) in systems. In the US, one police force acknowledged that there may be a culture to not acknowledge the presence of a female gang associate because ‘they are just a girlfriend’. If we can put the various problems with gang matrices aside, non-identification of women and girls has dangerous consequences. Here in the UK, data from the Metropolitan Police gang database suggests that less than 1% of those identified as being members of or associated with a gang are female. Yet, we know that gangs impact on whole communities including girlfriends, sisters and cousins of those involved.

Ultimately, I do not believe that the criminal justice system should be the primary way of dealing with the issues associated with gangs. We know that poverty, poor education, domestic abuse, poor mental health and substance abuse are all factors that impact on community violence. The issue with not identifying women and girls through the criminal justice system however, is that as central government budget cuts continue to hit local government non-statutory services are taking a hit. These services traditionally include Early Help and prevention services that work with high risk young people.

But local government is not the only provider of services. Police have a commissioning arm, either through a Mayoral office (such as MOPAC) or through a police and crime commissioner. Services should be commissioned based on the need in an area, which is informed by police data. If that data is showing that less than 1% of those involved in gang activity are female, intervention and prevention services for women and girls will not be commissioned.

Yet, we know that around 95% of County Lines activity involved females (Whittaker et al, 2018) and it is a growing issue. If we ignore the young women and girls involved in gang activity, we are keeping them invisible. We need to bring them into the light and develop specialist support that understands how to work with these young women.

Catch the full interview here at about 24 minutes 33 seconds in.

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