Members of the Peace Partners team attended the Westminster Insight Tackling Gangs and Youth Crime Conference in central London on the 23rd January. This a a report by one of the attendees, Barbara André.
What a day! I hadn’t thought a lot about this conference, and hadn’t even looked at the website beforehand to find out more as I knew that I wouldn’t know any of the speakers anyway.
I expected this to be a very long and possibly tiring day, and I was surprised how fast the time went by because the contributions were very interesting. The speakers were from different backgrounds and also viewpoints on the subject, as they are working for completely different organisations or public services, but one can say that all of them were incredibly passionate about it. They were personally engaged, and some even had personal experiences in this field and had been involved in gangs themselves at some point in time during their lives. We heard touching stories of how they were able to eventually turn their lives completely around.
Some of the contributions were rather shocking, opening our eyes to the extent of this situation and the ever more growing areas in the UK where gangs are becoming a problem. It is far from being solely a London issue any more; on the contrary the existing gangs are currently now targeting specific rural areas. Their tactics are nothing short of shocking. Something else which was frightening: the way the gang members exhibit their violence is becoming more and more brutal.
It was also interesting to hear that this is no longer mainly a problem concerning boys or young male adults, but many girls and woman are being ‘sucked into’ gang activities, and are consequently suffering in multiple ways. The age range of gang members seems to be shifting more and more to ever younger kids. Another myth which was exploded was that it is only kids born into a poor family who are prone to get involved with gangs, nowadays it is often middle-class children. Many of the speakers pointed out what a huge role social media is playing in helping gangs to expand in size at an alarming rate. It was made clear that it seems incredibly difficult, or even impossible, for a gang member to leave the gang for good, especially as social media is ever present.
I personally was particularly interested in the reasons why a young person would want to join a gang. One reason which was mentioned by everyone was when a boy or girl gets banned from school; another big reason is too little attention given by the parents; the geographical area where the kids get brought up; poverty; and the well thought out tactics of the gang leaders to entice a young person to get on board, be it by offering drugs for free, making promises that they will become rich and earn lots of money, or blackmailing them in some other way.
It was certainly a very insightful day. The only thing I missed was a discussion on how this malady could be stopped, or at least limited.