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Who Joins a Gang, and Why?

Sons. Daughters. Grandchildren. Foster children. Gangs know no color lines, no age, no gender, and no geographic limitations. Kids from all economic and social backgrounds have been lured into gang life, from as early as age six or seven.

Historically, gangs were a problem for major cities, but they are now seeping into every corner of America looking for new recruits and new ways to carry out their violence or traffic their drugs and weapons. Every child in every state needs support to live a Gangfree Life.

Why do young people join gangs?

The reasons why young people join gangs can vary from simple to more complex. Some reasons include:

A Sense of "Family" - Young people might feel that they don't receive enough support or attention at home. They may be trying to escape a negative home life, or may be looking for a father figure. Gangs often make promises to give unconditional support, and to become the "family" they never had.

Need for food or money -
Gangs may present themselves as a means of survival to youth who lack basic essentials such as food, clothing and shelter. More and more, gang members use their affiliation to make a profit through illegal activities, such as selling drugs and auto theft.

Desire for protection -
Communities with high gang activity often see young people join a gang just to survive. It is often easier to join the gang than to remain vulnerable and unprotected in their neighborhoods.

Peer Pressure -
Kids and teens face constant pressure to fit in, and they may not have the support they need to avoid the pressures to join a gang. Peer pressure can come in the form of intimidation, coercion, a dare, harassment, friendly persuasion, or repetitious begging.

Family history or tradition -
Families can have gang involvement spanning over multiple generations. This is one of the toughest forms of pressure to escape, as the gang lifestyle is deeply rooted in family traditions and values.

Excitement -
Some young people get a rush out of defying authority, or committing crimes. They may be attracted to the gang lifestyle, as it lives outside the law and participates in many illicit behaviors.

To Appear Cool - Gangs have mastered the art of manipulation to attract potential recruits. They wear the latest fashion trends, throw the hottest parties, and drive the coolest cars. They can appear to have the 'perfect' lifestyle to a young kid who's looking to fit in somewhere. The offer an image of "cool" that has been glorified by the media and entertainment industry.


Common Myths:

I live in an exclusive suburb. There’s no real gang threat here.

Wrong. In fact, 61.5% of law enforcement in suburban counties report gang problems in their areas.* Gangs are making their way into all of America’s communities, even the most exclusive, thanks to the media and the internet. By posting glorified gang videos on and persuasive profiles on popular networking web sites, gangs can appeal to kids who are bored in their upper class suburban neighborhoods.

I have a daughter, so I really have nothing to worry about. Gangs are for boys.

Girls are just as susceptible to gang recruitment as boys. Current estimates suggest that 9% - 22% of gang members are female.*Additional sutides have found that female gangs are more likely to be found in small cities and rural environments than in larger ciities.*

My son is young, I don’t need to educate him about gangs until he’s in high school.

Gang involvement can begin as early as elementary school. Children as young as 6 years old have been recruited to work for gangs. Talk to your children early and often.


*Source: National Youth Gang Center




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