Cape Town – Gangs in the Western Cape lure girls as young as 12 to work for them.
Gangs use tactics of fear and intimidation to recruit women and young girls and keep them trapped in gangs, says registered counselor Emanuela Muller, who recently earned a master’s degree in psychology from Stellenbosch University.
Mueller did research on how girls and women in the Western Cape province recruited and joined gangs, and what their role and functions were in these gangs.
She says the gangs know the girls’ needs and vulnerabilities in their communities, and use them to their advantage. Gangs sometimes target women who are addicted to drugs or who come from family backgrounds with financial wealth and prestige in the communities, in order to exploit their financial resources and status for the benefit of the gang.
“Women play different roles in gangs. These companies include transmitting information, concealing and handling contraband, “trapping” rival male gang members, selling drugs, and participating in burglaries.
“This clearly shows that women are in fact part of the core gang activities, and they are not just in the periphery of gangs,” Mueller says.
I also tried to find out what could be done to prevent them from joining gangs as well as how to support women who wanted to leave a gang or who had already chosen to do so.
Mueller interviewed women who were involved in gang culture to varying degrees and who participated in an intervention project that offered them a new lease on life.
She says her findings show that some girls are deceived or tempted to get involved in gangs through socializing with gang members or through dating.
Gangs sometimes target women who are addicted to drugs or who come from family backgrounds with financial wealth and prestige in the communities, in order to exploit their financial resources and prestige for the benefit of the gang. A common path to joining gangs is to engage in a romantic relationship with a male gang member.
“Young women may be attracted to gangs because of the easy access and availability of medicines.”
Mueller added: “One participant mentioned that when socializing with gang members and joining gangs, women are exposed to many details about gang activities.
“Having this knowledge of the gang’s activities as a stranger puts the gang at risk, and as a result, they have to become part of the gang to prove that they can be trusted. Resisting this pressure puts them and their families at risk.”
Muller says although the participants did not mention a specific initiation rite, they still stressed the importance of having to prove their loyalty and commitment to the gang.
The act of ‘trapping’ or seducing a rival gang member is something unique to a gangster. They will lure or seduce a male member of a rival gang who may be on their gang’s ‘hit’ list, so that it becomes easier for their gang to kill him.
“A woman joining a gang symbolizes the gang members or conveys to them that she can be trusted and has proven her loyalty.”
Mueller says it’s hard for a woman to leave a gang, especially if she has a child born to a gang member or is financially dependent on a gang member.
“They can leave if they have the necessary support systems in place (a safe place to stay, financial means to support themselves and their children), although sometimes this can mean leaving their homes and families in order to pursue a new life in a different town or city.
“These women need supervised and safe recreational clubs or groups where they can participate in constructive, exciting but healthy activities and experience a sense of belonging and community; mental health services; counseling, therapy, counseling, and career guidance programs; educational opportunities, as well as funding opportunities for those who wish to complete the stage secondary school, continue studying, acquire skills and find a job. ”
According to Muller, pre- and post-intervention initiatives may not provide sustainable change for some girls and women due to lack of funding. She adds that some programs may not be comprehensive enough in meeting the diverse needs of this group of women.
Muller says ex-gangs, government, NGOs, community-based organizations, community leaders, private funders, and multidisciplinary teams (registered counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers) should be involved in pre- and post-intervention initiatives.