Women and girls trapped in abusive relationships with gang members are being failed by police and other services, says a former Southwark councillor and author of a new report on how gang violence impacts women.
Samantha Jury-Dada (pictured), who was elected as a Labour Faraday ward councillor in Walworth from 2016-2018, published her report girls, gangs and their abusive relationships last week. Jury-Dada, who now lives in Manchester, argues women are falling through the cracks in the police and other public services’ approach to tackling gang violence.
Her report highlights that existing interventions are focused overwhelmingly on men, and not the abusive, controlling relationships they can have with the women in their lives.
Jury-Dada believes the number of women caught up in gang culture and abuse is vastly unreported, and argues simply acknowledging these victims exist will make a positive first step and help police forces, councils and charities across the UK tackle the problem.
The Metropolitan police’s gang matrix, a database listing men and boys believed to be gang members or at risk of gangs, is overwhelmingly populated by men and boys – at 99.4 per cent.
But research shows that nearly nine in ten county lines gangs use women and girls in their operations, often as drug mules or for sex trafficking.
“As a councillor I sat in a lot of meetings on youth violence and realised there was a bit of a gap,” Jury-Dada told the News, “abusive relationships come first, before the gang, so we need to divert people away from them.”
Her work, funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, involved five weeks vising projects in areas in the USA affected by gang violence to find examples of best practice.
She says a key barrier is the idea that women abused by gangs don’t fit the mould of the idealised ‘victim’.
“Girls in the criminal justice system are not the culturally accepted view of what it means to be a victim,” the report explains.
“These girls occupy a grey space between victim and perpetrator, where they may legitimately be responsible for a crime such as drug dealing or physical violence but are also being victimised within the gang through an abusive relationship or sexual violence.”
She argues traditional ‘victim support’ style interventions are less likely to achieve success with this group, partly because they do not necessarily see themselves as victims and may view their unhealthy relationships as normal.
The report recommends advertising services as offering opportunities in employment, housing, and conflict resolution instead, and says there is evidence that self-esteem building activities are more likely to be successful.
She also calls for more female frontline workers, and saying gang outreach teams should have training in supporting people experiencing domestic abuse and trauma.
The deputy mayor for policing and crime, Sophie Linden, says the report will help the Met develop the work of its new violence reduction unit.
It is hoped it will also inform commissioners’ decisions in other parts of the country affected by gang violence.
To find out more, visit girlsandgangs.home.blog