A gang is a group of people who live in the same area, or go to the same places and who hang out together. Some gangs take part in bullying, risky and dangerous behaviour and criminal activity. Gangs can happen in the city or in the country. Being part of a gang like this is dangerous:
- You can be pressured into committing a crime
- You may become a victim of bullying or crime
- You can get in trouble with the law
- You may be injured or killed
- You can get focussed on risky or dangerous behaviour
- You may miss out on other things like education, opportunities and activities
- You can lose the support of family and friends
- You may suffer other problems like radicalisation, child sexual exploitation, abuse, substance misuse, drugs and more
Gangs usually have some members who are older, and some who are younger, but you may not meet the older members until you have been in the gang for some time.
Young people are often very resilient, fearless and tough, but also look young and unthreatening. For this reason, they are sometimes targeted by older people already in gangs, and pressured into joining in risky and illegal activities. This is understood by adults who work with children, like Social Workers, Youth Workers and Teachers.It is called Criminal Exploitation.
Criminal Exploitation happens when someone is drawn away from their life and encouraged to take part in illegal activities like carrying drugs or weapons. Sometimes small amounts of money are offered, but adults may also use threats of violence or "pay" young people in other things, like cigarettes or phone credit. These adults encourage the young person to feel unhappy with their life, and leave or drive away their friends, family, study and schooling and hopes for the future. They also encourage the young person to groom other young people to join in the criminal activity.
Criminal Exploitation is abuse. If you, or anyone you know, is being targeted by anyone else in this way, either by an adult or another young person, either in person or online then you should take action to protect yourself and young friends.
Crucial: Criminal exploitation gangs target vulnerable adults as well as children. You can find out more, and read case studies about young people who have been exploited, in this booklet: Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults.
Why do some people join gangs?
Children and young people join gangs for many different reasons. These might include:
- A sense of belonging
- Respect and status
- Peer pressure
Listen to the voices of young people’s experiences with gangs.
How to get help
You can talk to lots of different people who can help you if you or someone you know is having trouble with gangs, such as:
- Your parents, carer or another relative you trust
- A trusted adult like a sports coach, youth worker or teacher
- Your school health nurse or GP (doctor)
You can also make a confidential call to Childline on 0800 111
Take Action: You can make an anonymous report to Fearless, make an anonymous report, and find out lots of information about different kinds of crime.
Gangs and the Law
If you become involved in gangs then you could get in trouble with the police. If you offend your sentence could be longer if it was a part of gang activity.
If you you help a gang member with a crime, you can end up with the same sentence as the person who committed the crime.
Instant expert: Get all the facts on laws about carrying knives and guns.
Girls in Gangs
Girls in gangs or girls related to a gang member such as a boyfriend or brother, may be asked to do illegal things such as carry drugs or weapons. Girls and boys in gangs are also at risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence.
Gangs and problems at home
Young people in gangs often have problems at home. These can be there before the young person gets involved in the gang. But they can also happen because of how the young person's behaviour changes. Anyone can be targeted for criminal exploitation, but some things make a young person more at risk:
- Having been targeted before
- Truanting, missing lessons or dropping out
- Having learning difficulties
- Falling out with your family or running away