Causes and facilitating factors of women and girls' participation in organized criminal groups: the example of Cape Town
Based on interviews with more than 30 female gang members in Cape Town, South Africa, a study identified factors that facilitated gang membership amongst these females, ranging from those in their teens to the middle-aged. It is important to note that the findings of this study are not necessarily representative of wider female involvement in organized crime. However, it does help to understand and highlight the experiences of women involved in the Cape Town gang milieu (Shaw and Skywalker, 2017).
The interviews revealed several themes that may, in part, be understood as causes or facilitative factors of joining the gangs:
- Feeling of belonging and family: Many of the females interviewed noted that they joined the gang scene because it provided them with a sense of belonging that they felt was missing from their often violent and dysfunctional biological family life. Being part of these gang families also provided the women with security, such as protection, and resources (e.g., money, clothes, and jewellery). Many of these females joined the gangs through romantic relationships with existing male gang members.
- Protection: A common reason for joining the gangs mentioned by the women was that the gangs offered them protection. Being part of the gang "families" provided them with security in an often dangerous environment, in which women were particularly vulnerable to sexual and domestic violence. However, many women noted that they were still subject to such violence from within the gang (e.g. their partners who were gang members).
- Resources: The gangs also offered these women resources they would otherwise be unable to afford or access, such as jewellery, cars, and clothing. Access to these goods was often through the women's boyfriends and gang bosses.
- "The path of least resistance": Some women reported that joining a gang was easier than resisting-it was the path of least resistance. Joining the gang also provided them with "immediate rewards" as a result.
- Under- and unemployment in the licit economy: Several of the women noted that the gangs offered more exciting opportunities with larger rewards compared to the jobs available to them in the licit economy. The few ordinary employment opportunities the women found, often in the retail sector, were described as "boring and poorly paid".
- Substance abuse: According to some women interviewed, they saw joining gangs as one of the only option left to them because of their struggle with substance abuse. Their addictions made it difficult to find steady and licit employment and made them particularly vulnerable to violence. Gangs offered not only protection (to a certain extent), but access to substances as well.