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Rape 'now gang weapon of choice'
By Angus Stickler
Today programme

A teenager with a knife
Gang life comes with drug dealing and knife and gun crime

Young women are being exploited and subjected to sexual violence as a result of gang reprisals, according to a report.

Interviews with more than 350 women and girls by the charity Race on the Agenda revealed the use of rape to punish girl gang members and relatives of rivals.

The women and girls interviewed were all associated with gangs in London.

Report author Carlene Firmin said rape was being used "as a weapon of choice" and few services were equipped to help.

She described one interview with a girl who had been arrested for selling drugs for a gang.


I've beaten up people - I've had 10 people rush me at one time - got my head bust open with a bottle
Gang member Rebecca

"Upon her bail, she was kidnapped and she was raped by a number of the gang members as a punishment and to silence her," she said.

The report says little is known about the numbers of women and girls affected by gang violence - and highlights how the few services that do exist are chronically under-resourced and over-stretched.

Peaches Cadogan, a former gang member who now works with charity Reality Bites trying to help gang members, backed up the report.

She said girls involved in gangs did not know how to get out of the abusive situation, and feared the backlash if they said no.


Peaches Cadogan

She said: "This is real life - this is them - because at the end of the day - you're not only putting yourself in that situation - you're also putting families in a situation.

"Those gang members have no problem in just putting a gun in your mother's mouth - these things happen on a day to day basis."

We tried to speak with some of these young women - but none would give us an interview.

Life of violence

The focus of the debate on gangs has long centred on young men involved in knife and gun crime. But has the gang culture's impact on girls been overlooked?

The issue of girls involved in gang crime is not just confined to black communities living in the impoverished estates of London.

In London and Glasgow, a BBC investigation has spoken to young female gang members. Their names have been changed, but their stories reveal the depths of girl involvement in gangs.


Rebecca describes her gang involvement

"I've beaten up people - I've had 10 people rush me at one time - got my head bust open with a bottle. When I give out violence, it's because they give out violence to me - so it's pay back," said Rebecca, a London gang member.

She was smoking and dealing cannabis from the age of 13 and started selling Class A drugs when she left school.

"Whenever you get involved in Class A drugs and you're selling it - it comes with gun crime, knife crime, it comes with all of it.

"I've held a gun myself - not my's nothing to you - you do it without question."

The East End of Glasgow has one of the highest knife crime rates in western Europe. Young white men are predominantly involved, but in recent years there has been a shift.


My mum got attacked when I was not there - they battered her
Gang member Louise

According to workers on a youth project on the Easterhouse estate, children as young as seven are getting drawn into the violence and increasing numbers of girls are getting involved.

Youth worker Stephanie Brady said: "The girls these days they join gangs to try and make friends. I think they feel as if they need to be a part of something - they've no real confidence or self-esteem."

There is a distinct difference with London - here it's not about the drugs. It's simply alcohol-fuelled battles between rival teenage gangs.

Targeting family

"It's getting worser and worser so it is," said Louise, 16, who joined a gang when she was just 13.

"Lasses are just as bad as boys - lasses will just go and start - certain lasses they act like boys and dress like boys - they'll go about stabbing other lasses - battering other lasses and just laughing - just pick their victims."

Once in a gang you dare not venture from the boundaries of your patch. Louise made a mistake - she started dating a boy from a different area and the gang targeted her family.

"My mum got attacked when I was not there - they battered her," she said.


You know you're always always looking over your shoulder
Gang member Rebecca

"She had bruises all over her face and her eye was all the way out and it was - she was scared - scared of staying in our house."

In Glasgow at least the girls are escaping the targeted sexual violence, although they do speak of underage sex fuelled by drink and drugs.

In London and Glasgow these girls are the second or third generation associated with gangs - they know no different, having grown up in and around violent crime.

It is a world largely hidden from mainstream society. It is only now that it's beginning to hit the political radar - these are teenage girls drawn into a world of violent crime - from which there is little chance of escape.

"You know you're always always looking behind your shoulder 24-7 a day for everyone - you get me," said gang member Rebecca.

"So it's hard when you're living that life and you started so young - it's hard to get out of it you know."

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