Girls, Juvenile Delinquency, & Gangs
While females make up a little less than ten percent of the overall gang population, research suggests that girls may account for between one-fourth and one-half of the gang members in younger adolescent gangs.1 Overall, female gang members appear to be more heavily represented in gangs located outside of large cities, with half of gangs located in these areas reporting female members, compared to large cities, where about a quarter of gangs located in larger cities report female members.2
While the types of delinquent acts that girls in gangs commit are often less severe than boys, their involvement with gangs is still a concern and demands unique prevention, response, incarceration, and rehabilitation efforts.3 Research on this topic has identified several key factors that are significantly correlated with girls’ delinquency including gang involvement:
- As girls mature through adolescence they face an increased chance of experiencing risk factors for gang involvement and delinquency, such as physical and sexual abuse and assault, and have higher rates of diagnosed depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
- A lack of family supervision and monitoring has been shown to have a causal link to delinquency for both boys and girls, but ineffective parenting practices (harsh or inconsistent discipline), family conflict, growing up in poverty, a lack of a consistent caregiver, and frequent family moves are more likely to affect the chance that girls will be involved in gangs and conduct delinquent acts.
- A strong attachment or connection with school has been found to act as a protective factor for girls, while a lack of connection or engagement with school is connected with increased rates of delinquency for girls.4
As a result, it is important to ensure services targeted at young women include trauma-informed approaches, provide adequate mental health services, focus on school connectedness, and address family relationships.
This resource page from the OJJDP provides a comprehensive summary about girls and delinquency and their involvement in the juvenile justice system. It also covers more in-depth information about how girls develop differently than boys, how this affects their experiences with the juvenile justice system, and why services need to be tailored to their needs. Evaluation of gender-specific programming has shown encouraging results in substance abuse and gang prevention programs for girls.
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