Running Head: PAST VIOLENT VICTIMIZATION AND FUTURE GANG
AFFLIATION AMONG WOMEN
PAST VIOLENT VICTIMIZATION AND FUTURE
GANG AFFILIATION AMONG WOMEN
School of Criminology
and Criminal Justice
411 N. Central Avenue
Phone Number: (602)
Email: [email protected]
Destinee Starcher received her Bachelor’s Degree in criminology from West Virginia
University. She is currently pursuing a Master’s student in the school of Criminology
& Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. Her research interests are based on policing
legitimacy, corrections, and the study of women in the criminal justice system.
Past research has clearly established a link between gang
membership and offending. However, far less research has focused on gang
members as victims of violent victimizations. Only a handful of studies directly
examined the link between female gang members and past violent victimization.
The current study uses a dataset of 2,414 male and female inmates from 14
Florida jails. Specifically, the study seeks to answer the following research
question. How does past violent victimization increase the likelihood that
women will join a gang? The researcher hypothesizes that women with high levels
of past violent victimization will be more likely to join a gang for
protection. The dependent variable is operationalized with three measures of violent
victimization: the victim of an attack with a deadly weapon, the victim of a
home invasion, or the victim of a rape/sexual assault. Coding of the independent
and dependent variable is discussed, along with an analysis of the research question
and hypothesis. The study concludes with a discussion of important policy
implications and directions for future researchers.
Keywords: past violent victimization,
gangs, female gang affiliation
The field of
criminology has long established that gang affiliation is unequivocally
correlated with offending (Battin
et al., 1998; Esbensen et al., 2010; Pyrooz, 2013; Pyrooz et al., 2016; Thornberry
et al., 2003). The relationship between gang membership and offending is
so well established that scholars have shifted their focus to other areas of
gang life. One of
the most important areas of scientific inquiry to emerge, in the last few decades, is the
study of gang
members as victims of violent crime. Although easily identified as offenders a small body of research has
found that gang members also tend to be victims of violent crime themselves (Decker, Katz, & Webb, 2008; Fox, 2017; Katz et al., 2011; Peterson, Taylor,
& Esbensen, 2004). In particular, a few studies have directly
examined the victimization of female gang members (De La Rue, Espelage, & Hamby 2014; Gover, Jennings,
& Tewksbury, 2009). Some research has suggested that women with high
levels of past victimization are more likely to join a gang for protection (Decker & Curry, 2000;
Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001).
research has acknowledged the existence of female gang members (Bjerregaard & Smith, 1993; Deschenes
& Esbensen, 1999; Molidor, 1996). In recent years the recognition of
female gang members in empirical research has grown, as the rate of female gang
members has increased in the United States. According to the National Gang Center (2010), female gang members
represent 7.4% of all gang members in the country. Although some scholars have suggested the
rate of female gang membership is actually much higher between 10% and 35%
nationally (Snethen, 2010).
Given the relatively high number of women in gangs, it is important to
understand risk factors for future gang membership. From a policy standpoint understanding
the reasons why women join a gang could help deter potential gang members. Although
women in gangs commit fewer crimes compared to their male counterparts, female
gang membership is still an important area of emphasis in criminological
research. The present study will expand on past research by examining the link
between violent victimization and future female gang affiliation.
stated above few studies have examined the link between female gang membership
and past violent victimization. Of the few studies in the area, the majority
focus on adolescent populations (Decker & Curry, 2000; DeLisi et al., 2009; Esbensen et al., 2010; Gover
et al., 2009; Katz et al., 2011; Peterson et al., 2004). In particular,
several studies utilize a survey methodology to sample middle and high school
students (De La Rue et al., 2014;
Taylor et al., 2007; Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001). Thus, the majority
of past research has examined this problem through the lens of adolescent
participants. The current study will
build on prior research by utilizing a sample of adult incarcerated women.
Also, this study will add to the body of knowledge by examining the specific types
of victimization that are common among gang affiliated women.
body of literature connecting gang affiliation and victimization is limited.
However, the research has established a connection between current gang members
and past histories of victimization (Fox, 2013; Katz et al., 2011; Peterson et al., 2004; Rufino, Fox, &
Kercher, 2012; Taylor et al., 2007; Wu & Pyrooz, 2016). Surveys of
youth public schools reveal that self-proclaimed gang members are more likely
to report high levels of victimization compared to non-gang members (Peterson et al., 2004; Taylor et
al., 2007; Taylor et al., 2008; Wu & Pyrooz, 2016). Peterson and
colleagues (2004) used data from two different middle schools to examine the
relationship between youth gang membership and past violent victimization. The
first site utilized a cross-sectional methodology to sample 5,935 students from
42 public middle schools. While the second research site used a longitudinal
methodology and surveyed 3,500 students from another 22 public middle schools. The
researchers found that self-reported gang members in both sample groups were
more likely to report high levels of victimization before joining a gang (Peterson et al., 2004). Thus, this study illustrates a link
between current gang members and past histories of violent victimization. Further
advancing research in the field an additional study found when controlling for
individual, family and situational factors that gang-involved youths were more
likely to experience annual victimization (Taylor et al., 2007). However, surveying adolescents
in a school setting do have several limitations.
The studies (see Peterson et al., 2004; Taylor
et al., 2007) gathered data exclusively from public schools in the
state. This limits the generalizability of the conclusions from these studies. Also, these datasets collected from public schools
could underrepresent “high-risk” youth or gang members that are either not
present or have dropped out of school (Gover et al., 2009; Peterson et al., 2004; Taylor et al., 2007).
However, additional studies of youth outside of the classroom setting have also
found that gang members are at higher risk for victimization (Katz et al., 2011). Katz and
colleagues (2011) used data from Arizona Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring
program, which contained a sample of 909 juveniles recently booked into county
jails. Controlling for drug use and recent delinquency the study found that self-identified
gang members were more likely to report victimization at one point in their
life, than non-gang members. Specifically, 97.8% of current gang members
reported violent victimization at one point in their life (Katz et al., 2011). The few
studies that have exclusively examined female gang affiliation have also
reached similar results.
Female Gang Membership
Far less research
has focused exclusively on the victimization of female gang members. The
majority of studies in this area utilize samples of public school students (De La Rue et al., 2014; Gover et
al., 2009). De La Rue and colleagues (2014) surveyed 8,588 middle and
high school girls to examine the link between gang membership and
victimization. The gang affiliated girls were more likely to experience high
levels of victimization, specifically sexual abuse when compared to girls, not
in a gang. (De La Rue et al.,
2014). An additional study also echoed the sexual abuse findings, with
data from the Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Gover et al., 2009). The researchers found that
rates of sexual abuse were high among young boys and girls in gangs. Particularly
24.5% of male gang members and 28.2% of female gang members reported sexual
abuse in their lifetime (Gover
et al., 2009).
conducting interviews of female gang members also found disturbing results concerning
the sexual victimization of current gang members (Joe & Chesney-Lind, 1995; Miller, 2001; Miller & Brunson, 2000).
Both Joe and Chesney-Lind (1995) and Miller (2001) found that female gang
members were more likely to experience high levels of sexual victimization in
childhood. Following these publications,
other scholars have begun to explore the connection between past violent
victimization and the desire to join a gang (Decker & Curry, 2000; DeLisi et al., 2009; Walker-Barnes
& Mason, 2001). DeLisi and colleagues (2009) utilized data from the National
Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and found that respondents who reported
a large number of victimization experiences were significantly more likely to
join a gang. Further expansion of empirical research has revealed that some
women join a gang for protection in the larger community (Decker & Curry, 2000;
Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001).
Only a handful of studies are
directly interested in the link between the victimization histories of female
gang members and their need to join a gang for protection. Although not
a vast quantity of research, a few scholars have conducted in-depth interviews
with female gang members (Decker
& Curry, 2000; Walker-Barnes
& Mason, 2001). The use of an interview methodology allows the
researcher to acquire detailed information about the participants’ victimization
history, and their own perception of gang involvement. Decker and Curry (2000) applied
a qualitative methodology to interview ninety-six youths who identified as
current, former or associate gang members in Saint Louis, Missouri. The
researchers found that while some individuals joined the gang for respect, a significant
number joined a gang for physical protection in the community (Decker & Curry, 2000).
Also utilizing an in-depth survey methodology, an additional study was able to
replicate these results using a sample of high school girls (Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001).
and Mason (2001) were also interested in the possible relationship between
girls with a history of victimization and the likelihood of future gang
affiliation. The sample was comprised of high school aged girls from a high
crime area. Each participant was interviewed twice to ensure in-depth responses
to survey questions. The researchers were interested in possible risk factors
for gang involvement such as familial factors, neighborhood factors (such as economic
issues or the desire for protection), and psychosocial factors (such as the
desire for friendship). Although friends
were listed as the greatest incentive in the sample, protection was also cited
as a major reason to join the gang (Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001). Specifically, 70% of the
respondents believe that gangs provide them with physical protection, and that
gangs usually protect each other (Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001).
the above studies again have one major limitation, the use of adolescent or juvenile
samples. The present study
will attempt to further expand the body of knowledge concerning gang affiliation
and violent victimization. The
current study will sample from a population of incarcerated adult female
gang members. Specifically, the present study will seek to answer the following
research question. How does past violent
victimization increase the likelihood that women will join a gang? The
hypothesis based on prior research is that women with high levels of past
violent victimization will be more likely to join a gang for protection. The next section of the paper
will detail the methodology of the current study.
Participants and Procedure
This study employs
secondary data analysis, from an original dataset containing 2,414 male and
female inmates. The current study analyzed the sample of 668 female inmates from
the original dataset. Inmates were surveyed in 14 Florida jails. The sample was
racially diverse, with Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic inmates
represented. The sample was also fairly
well educated, given the jail setting. At
each jail, participants were given a self-administered survey and ensured of anonymity
in the research process. The survey was read out loud to the inmates in English
and Spanish. The survey was voluntary and the inmates were not compensated for
their participation. The
next section of the paper will explain the conceptualization and operationalization
of both the independent and dependent variable.
The independent variable
in the current study is past violent victimization. The variable is
conceptualized with three measures of violent victimization in the survey
instrument. Violent victimization was
conceptualized as: the victim of an attack with a deadly weapon, the victim of
a home invasion, or the victim of a rape/sexual assault. The independent variable
is measured with items 64, 65, and 69 from the survey instrument. From the
survey item 64 “Have you ever been attacked with a weapon?” measures
victimization with a weapon. Also item 65 from the survey “Have you ever been
sexually assaulted or raped?” another type of violent victimization. Finally
item 69 “Have you ever been the victim of a home invasion?” concerns the final
measure of victimization. The next paragraph explains
the dependent variable.
variable in the current study is the reason women join a gang. This variable
will be measured with item 34 from the survey instrument, “Why did you first
join a gang?” The reason women join a
gang was conceptualized with the original responses from the survey instrument:
“I have never been in a gang, friends were gang members, family were gang
members, protection, respect, money, for fun, or other.” Finally, gender will
be measured with item 138 from the survey, “What is your sex?” The
following section of the paper will explain the coding of each variable.
variable is past violent victimization, measured with three questions
concerning different types of violent
victimization. All three of these questions (items 64, 65, and 69) were dichotomous
yes or no variables recoded with a simple: No=0 and Yes=1. In order to measure past victimization, each of the three
questions (items 64, 65, and 69) also asked the inmates how many times they
were attacked before joining a gang recoded as: never attacked=0, attacked at
least once=1. Thus for the measurement of the entire independent variable, past
violent victimization, the above measures were combined and recoded as: no past
violent victimization=0 and, past violent victimization=1. The coding of the
dependent variable is discussed in the next section.
variable is the reason why women join a gang. Item 34 from the survey, “Why did
you first join a gang?” was used to measure this variable. The researcher was
only interested in protection as the reason women join gangs. Therefore for
this question responses were recoded from the original survey as: I have never been in a gang=0, Protection=1, Friends
were gang members=0, Family were gang members=0, Respect=0, Money=0, for fun=0,
and other=0. The responses were then combined to show that no gang affiliation
or did not join a gang for protection=0, and joined a gang for protection=1. Finally,
the current study included item 138 from the survey, “What is your sex?” recoded
as: male=0, female=1.
The researcher then examined correlations between
those women with a history of violent victimization and those who joined a gang
for protection. Also using these codes researchers examined which type(s) of
violent crime victimization were common among gang affiliated women. Finally, the
use of this coding method allowed the researcher to prove the hypothesis that women
with high levels of past violent victimization are more likely to join a gang for
The link between
gang membership and criminal offending is well established in the field of
criminology (Battin et al.,
1998; Esbensen et al., 2010; Pyrooz et al., 2013; Pyrooz et al., 2016;
Thornberry et al., 2003). However, far less research has examined gang
members as victims of violent crime. Nevertheless, empirical research has
established that gang members are often the victim of violent crime (Decker et al., 2008; Fox, 2017;
Katz et al., 2011; Peterson et al., 2004). A few studies have directly examined
the victimization of female gang members (Decker & Curry, 2000; Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001).
The further expansion of research has shown that women with high levels of past
victimization are more likely to join a gang for protection (Decker & Curry, 2000;
Walker-Barnes & Mason, 2001). However, past research has focused on juvenile
samples. The current study will build on prior research by directly examining a
sample of adult incarcerated women.
In the current
study, the researcher examined the relationship between past violent victimization
and future gang affiliation, with the hypothesis that some women will join a
gang for protection. Drawing from a sample of male and female inmates for 14
Florida jails, the present measured with violent victimization in comparison to
the reason why women choose
to join a gang. This is an important area of study, with several policy implications.
From a policy standpoint
understanding the reason for gang involvement can help deter future gang
members. Given that some women and young girls join a gang for protection it
may be important for parents, educators and politicians to create interventions
that help prevent the victimization of young girls at home and in school. Also, given the rising number of female adolescent
gang members, parents and teachers should be aware of this issue and seek out resources
when dealing with high-risk youths. Future criminological researchers should continue
to investigate issues related to gang membership and victimization.
research can utilize a similar independent and dependent variable, and attempt
to replicate the results of current study with other adult populations of women
in jails. Also, future researchers should examine the relationship between violent
victimization and the likelihood that women will join a gang, with a sample of adult women in prison. In addition,
future researchers should consider conducting a qualitative interview methodology,
in order to gain more in-depth responses from female gang members. The use of
alternative research designs will significantly add to the body of literature
concerning past violent victimization and the reason why women join gangs.
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