Of a group of women interviewed in prison for a new study, almost all of them were involved in violence, including gang fights, and regarded “traditional” female fighting techniques such as hair-pulling or scratching, with contempt.

The study, to be published in January, reveals that young women across Scotland see their gangs as based upon “friendship” and “family”, and says being violent is unavoidable if you grow up in certain areas.

Dr Susan Batchelor of Glasgow University interviewed more than 20 young women at HMP Cornton Vale to look at their behaviour and reasons for their involvement in gangs.

Contrary to the traditional stereotypes of girls being in gangs as sex objects for the boys, she found that their membership was far more complex and was often about status and friendship.

The report also suggests that girls get involved with gangs for excitement, status and protection, and more than half had used weapons such as bottles and bats to fight with.

“This is an area of research which has been much neglected, and the traditional stereotypes have been based on research about male gang membership or gangs in the US which are completely different,” said Ms Batchelor.

“The stereotypes suggest girls’ involvement is as sex objects, but in reality girls’ involvement is a lot more complex and none of them see themselves in this way. Some of them do relate to the tomboy idea though, partly because femininity is so denigrated in the group. If we are to address their needs we need to better understand the issue.”

Dr Batchelor found that being accepted as “one of the guys” involved not behaving like a girl, including not crying or sleeping around. Three-quarters of the young women she spoke to in Cornton Vale said they hung about in a group or gang, and for most of them it related to territorialism, “kith and kin”.

The report states: “Adopting a tough, aggressive approach was regarded as an unavoidable aspect of life growing up in a ‘rough’ area and was something that many of the young women said that they were taught by their parents, explicitly and by example, from a very early age.

“...Whilst they claimed that young women in general were less likely to use weapons than were young men, more than half of the participants reported that they had themselves assaulted people using bottles, bricks and bats (or, less commonly, knives).

Likewise, whereas the majority of the young women said they themselves engaged in “proper” (i.e. serious, rule-governed) violent behaviour, they thought that in general men were “mair violent” and women were “mair bitchy”.

“...Such violence was considered deeply meaningful; it served to maintain group solidarity, reinforce kinship ties, affirm allegiances, and enhance personal status within the group.”

The report adds: “When questioned about the motivations behind violence, three key themes emerged: excitement, status and protection. In relation to the former, respondents claimed to engage in violence as a means to counteract boredom and as a source of exhilaration, pleasure and power. As 22-year-old Annie put it, ‘I wasnae wanting to hurt anybody, it was just boredom.’

“Likewise, Kelly, a 21-year-old convicted for robbery and assault, said ‘It was fun … jist some’hin tae break up the day. It gied us something to pass the time’.”

In 2008 Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate, warned that increasing numbers of young women were coming to the attention of prosecutors as instigators and main perpetrators of crime rather than accessories to male offending Angiolini conceded that much of the evidence for a rise was anecdotal, but insisted a shift was taking place.

Ms Angiolini also told MSPs of an increase in “appalling acts of murderous torture” by women against women, and increasing numbers of young girls in groups using knives. She also blamed binge drinking for some of the problems.