Troubled journeys : an analysis of women's reality and experience within New Zealand gangs
Type of content
New Zealand's gangs are known as staunch male domains, yet women have been involved since gangs were conceived, as partners of gang members or unattached associates. Research in this area is sporadic and limited, with focus skewed towards male involvement. This qualitative study sets out to increase understandings about women's involvement. Semi-structured, conversational interviews were carried out with women who have had experience in gangs and the dat'1 obtained were supplemented with information from gang members, associates, police, social service workers and the literature on gangs. Thematic analyses, covering the women's family backgrounds, their motivations towards gangs and their members, and women's socialisation into the gang structures, were carried out. Similarly, the role of women in gangs was examined, as too were the power and control tactics - ranging from subtle intimidation and abuse to extreme violence and gang rape - that were employed to ensure women knew their place. Women's coping strategies, their decisions to leave a gang member partner or the gang scene, and the leaving process have been outlined. Overall the findings support international data on female gang involvement. The women interviewed tended to come from families that did not provide security or a sense of belonging. For many, gangs were an escape from the traumatic family circumstances. Gangs provided a form of protection from domestic/family violence, and physical/sexual abuse. For others, gangs offered excitement, fun and adventure. For most of the women interviewed, however, their escape from abuse or drudgery turned into a cavern of despair. In general, these women were forced into a submissive subservient role under the threat of violence. The violence was so great that the coping strategies women employed to create personal safety in these violence-prone contexts, actually worked to maintain the unequal and abusive treatment of women in gangs. In the case of these women, the final survival strategy was eventually to decide to leave the gang altogether.