By Jorja Leap
WeNews guest author
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Jorja Leap explores the personal stories of gang members in her new book, "Jumped In." In this excerpt she goes beyond statistics and stereotypes, finding for some, joining means taking control over their lives.
(WOMENSENEWS)-- Perhaps it is because I am now officially a mother, but I find myself increasingly drawn to the women in the neighborhoods.
I want to understand more about their role in gangs. For months now, I have heard conflicting stories about how active women are.
One thing was clear, however. Some women were full-fledged gang members, moving far beyond the more traditional status of baby mama.
Kenny Green told me, "They're a part of it now--they are bad--they roll up and start shooting."
Various experts had as much trouble as I did trying to figure out just how active young women are.
The National Gang Center highlighted a purposive study conducted in 15 major cities revealing that 7.8 percent of females, compared with 8.8 percent of males, between the ages of 18 and 30 self-reported that they were gang members. Law enforcement offered a different view--insisting there were far fewer female than male gang members. The only thing academics and practitioners agreed upon was that the actual number of female gang members was impossible to estimate.
In the past year, both Greg Boyle and Big Mike have insisted that probably less than 5 percent of "at-risk" young women became active gang members. The numbers weren't the only area where information was soft. Early on, the accounts of "girls in gangs" mirrored mainstream society: young women were the second sex, playing a supporting role. But from the mid-1980s and into the aptly named decade of death--when Los Angeles experienced up to 1,000 gang-related homicides a year--homegirls proved to be much more than Dale Evans with tattoos. Women did not just carry guns--they shot them. They did not just hide drugs for their homeboys--they dealt them, taking care of the cash and the transactions.
All this female activity in gangs ultimately gave rise to reports of sexual violence. The streets buzzed with stories of girls getting "sexed in" to neighborhoods by being gang-raped. In one rumored initiation rite, aspiring homegirls were forced to have sex with a gang member who was HIV-positive. There were tales of bloody beatings using fists and clubs, with no exceptions for gender. But all of this was secondhand. When I start talking to women in the neighborhoods, joining the gang sounds almost organic--evolving alongside criminal activity.
"We partied together and then they invited me to go on a drive-by," Vanity "Dimples" Benton explains. "Next thing I knew, 'cuz I was the only one with a license, they told me to drive while one of my homies opened up shooting. After that I was in the neighborhood. When they caught us and locked me up--I still thought it was worth it. I wanted to gangbang and slang drugs and just hang out."
Despite all the information and titillation, it takes me a long time to catch on to what happens with women in the neighborhoods. Too long. I am late to the party because, up until now, I have never been particularly interested in women. Hanging out with the homegirls was just not my speed. In my mind, there were two kinds of women--nuns and bitches--and I placed myself firmly in the latter category. Growing up in a Greek extended family, I watched how "good girls" exhibited a version of female dependency I wanted desperately to avoid.
Because of this I had no use for the girlfriends of gang members.
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