Fleisher, M.S., & Krienert, J. L. (2004). Life-course events, social networks, and the emergence of violence among female gang members. Journal of Community Psychology, 32(5), 607-622.
- Main Thesis: Drawing from a large field study, Fleisher and Krienert examine the social role of gangs for girls and young women in North End, a Champaign, IL, community. The authors discuss independence from household, gang affiliation, and first pregnancy as life-course events that affect the engagement of these females in violent activities. The authors offer suggestions for using this information to intervene in positive ways.
- Body of Evidence: In this article, Fleisher and Krienert report and analyze data from a multi-year study conducted in North End, a poor, predominantly black community in Champaign, IL. Using personal social-network data, self-report individual gang member data, and self-report public health/sex survey data, they collected a sample from 74 women who self-identified as being affiliated with gangs in North End. The authors also incorporate experiential knowledge to give context to the setting. The authors studied the life cycles and lifestyles of gang women, including their community involvement, early family life, parental drug/crime history, gang interactions, involvement in crime and violence, and social reaction to pregnancy. The study showed that the median age for initial gang membership for girls in North End was 14—the same age at which mothers said daughters should “learn how to care for themselves” (p. 614). The mean age for active female gang members was 18.8, and the mean age of inactive female gang members was 22.5. The study showed a correlation between violence and the presence of male gang members. The study also showed that gang membership correlates with violent crime and that life-course events—like independence from household, gang affiliation, and first pregnancy — are intertwined. Most shocking in this study’s evidentiary results is the finding that first pregnancy always led to decreased gang activity. The authors suggest that this may be an especially productive time for “outsiders” to offer information and support to female gang members in North End (p. 619).
- Conclusions: Based on their findings that gang network members have long-term social ties, the authors suggest that intervention should makes use of social networks. They also recommend that the larger community work against isolation by providing services to gang networks, “even if it means setting up shop in previously segregated areas” (p. 620). Finally, they encourage social workers to pay attention to the times and spaces—in particular, first pregnancy—most conducive to intervention. Finally, they recommend that social workers offer information and community support in ways that align with local culture.
- My Conclusions: I find this article fascinating in its focused and thoroughly researched approach and in its realistic recommendations for policy in regard to positive intervention for North End females. I especially appreciate the authors’ attention to broad social change; rather than being interested in taking particular individuals away from gang life, they advocate interventions that will push into the community and benefit broader social networks. Further, they point out the importance of researched intervention approaches: “we are not advocating teenage pregnancy” as a way to intervene, but rather as “a specific opportunity” for making connections between North End and the larger community (p. 619). Finally, I applaud the authors’ recommendation to respect local culture in order to create social ties and increase the opportunities for positive interactions and interventions.