ANGELA Tortolano is showing us around the 15 rival gang areas in Easterhouse.

Demarcations are hard for outsiders to see. It could be a graffittied wall, a bridge or the broken metal fence adjoining a piece of wasteland between housing estates. The names of the gangs are as unfamiliar as the boundaries: Drummy, Provy, Balti, Aggro.

"We just know where to go and where not to go," she says. "Between Cranhill and Springboig there's just a road that parts them. There are still folk that can't go to certain places and can't cross areas. There's less fighting than there was but you still get punch-ups and plenty of lassies fighting. I used to visit my auntie in Royston but sometimes the girls used to chase us and beat us because we're from Cranhill. They'd feel threatened or think we were after their boyfriends."

Angela is just 18 but until fairly recently she was part of a gang. Like hundreds of other teenage girls who become involved in gangs across Scotland, she says it was mainly about hanging out with "pals" and the fact that there was nothing else to do, but she admits there was sometimes more to it. New research from Glasgow University reveals that girls' involvement in gangs is more complex than previously thought. Traditionally research has classed female gang members as victims or tomboys. Jon Bannister, of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Criminal Justice Research, believes the picture is much more diverse.

"If I hadn't been in a gang I wouldn't have been recognised," says Angela. "My family have been in gangs. My mum was in a gang. Some lassies didn't bother with the gangs and the boys used to hit their windows with eggs. Sometimes the girls think they won't get hit so they wade in to the fights but they get hit the same. When boys are fighting they fight to feel like a man and fight all the time – even with boys from the same gang.

"Then when you try to change your life you get all the 'Who do you think you are now?' You're in a gang when you're young and stupid and people don't accept that you've changed. At school the most people would say about their future is they wanted to be a hairdresser or footballer. My ma hates the police but I have always wanted to be a policewoman."

Glasgow is no longer the murder capital of western Europe. Violent crime among gang members is falling. The levers for this change include the work of organisations like Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse (FARE) and Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).

Research by the VRU in 2006 revealed that 170 street gangs existed across Strathclyde, with as many as 3500 members aged between 11 and 23. Comparing police reports with the accounts of trauma surgeons and A&E staff showed as many as two-thirds of knife crimes were not being reported to the police. Every six hours in the city, someone suffered a serious facial injury.

Pioneering initiatives such as the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) has helped reduce gang-related crime. The project, based on an American scheme, involved convening meetings of victims and gang leaders and offering specialist support, and was launched by the VRU in 2008. In the first 12 months, violent activity by those who had engaged with the project dropped by 49.2%.

One rising concern, though, is the increasing numbers of young women ending up as perpetrators of gang violence – and, of course, the problem remains that girls in gangs are often victims of sexual exploitation.

Several years ago, Angela met an outreach worker from FARE. More than two years ago her involvement with the gang stopped.

"FARE looked at what needs we had," she says. "So rather than sitting in the park all day, they would take us go-karting on a Friday night and that would stop us getting in trouble with the police. Some of my friends got in a lot of trouble. We did courses and residentials with them to address self-esteem and keep us busy.

"Before that we spent our time scheme hopping. Girls are big instigators of trouble. Boys try to act smart and show off to the girls.

"A couple of times it's happened that I fell out with a boy and then all the lassies from that area jumped me."

The research by Jon Bannister at Glasgow University shows that – like Angela – many girls become involved for a sense of belonging. Others enjoy the power and status the gang brings, or want impress others.

"Some of the younger girls will do anything to please the boys," says Angela. "They don't really care what anyone thinks. I would never assault anyone but I was hit by a brick once. They would hit people with Buckfast bottles until they left them for dead sometimes. One of my pals who was a Muslim went to school in Cranhill. Because he was in the wrong area he got battered. He stopped breathing in the ambulance but they brought him round. He was trying to impress his pals.

"There was always one or two main leaders in the gang. They'd encourage the others to steal cars and stuff.

"My mum used to hang out in a gang and would get in trouble. If you have kids and bring them up in the east of Glasgow I guess they'll be in gangs too. It's changing but I think that would still be the same if I had kids."

Stefanie Brady, 25, has worked at FARE for the past eight years and says she loves her job. The charity, created in 1989, works locally with young people, gang members, schoolchildren and the elderly. They run residential courses, Friday night activities and education courses in schools.

"We do a lot of work to help girls with confidence and self-esteem," she says. "We work on peer support and sexual health as well. We do work on what constitutes a gang – it could just be a group of friends going to the cinema. A lot of the bravado and backchat comes from their family background. Upbringing plays a big part."

She, too, grew up in Cranhill and used to be in a gang.

"When I was 13 I got into the wrong crowd," she says. "I had no interest in school. My gang was the better life. It gave me a sense of belonging.

"I got attacked once by three girls and two guys with bottles and I ended up in hospital with lots of stitches in my head just because they didn't know I was from Cranhill. Gang fighting still happens here but it has reduced and mostly it takes place in the summer.

"Every gang has a song. They sing it to taunt the other gangs. The hardest thing for some is crossing the schemes.

"We've got a member of staff who can't set foot in the office because he's been told he'll be murdered if he comes to this area. He's turned his life around and works with the police now but people won't accept he's changed.

"There's also a lot more sexual activity between young people in gangs these days."

Michelle Lavery started spending time drinking with friends and staying off school when she was 13. She doesn't view what she did as being part of a gang. "We weren't a gang," she says. "Just a group of pals." She is matter of fact about the fights she has seen and those she's been involved in.

"Cranhill is just rough ground and houses," she says. "There's nothing to do. Sometimes lassies try to impress the boys. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes the lassies set up fights with other lassies when the boys aren't even there. Once all the Royston lassies were in Cranhill. There was about 17 of them with knives and bottles. Everyone started running and fighting.

"I used to fight a lot but I didn't know what I was doing at the time. I was always so drunk. But then I'd regret it the next morning. It was always easy to get someone to buy us a bottle. A lot of the girls are good at fighting. They fight like men. The boys used to get the girls to carry knives in their bra too. About a year and a half ago I got into trouble for being there when there was a big gang fight. I wasn't fighting but I was there. I got a curfew for a year and wasn't allowed to leave the house between 7pm and 7am. I couldn't do anything but it made me stop drinking and change."

Michelle says it is hard for girls to grow up in the east end and not be part of a gang.

"If you're a girl and want to just stay at school and study you'd get bullied," she says. "It's harder to be a girl and not be in a gang. I don't know why I used to get in trouble. My mum was really strict. I guess I went a bit crazy and rebelled. When my mum was young she used to smoke and drink and hang out with the boys. My brother isn't like me at all. He's studying to be a mechanical engineer. I don't even know what a mechanical engineer is."

Following her curfew, she says she has stopped drinking and is determined to help others.

"I want to work with older people and do some volunteering. I haven't been working because I was too ashamed to say I was on a curfew. I want to work in a care home. My nan was in a home and one night she kept pressing the bell for help and no-one came. I don't want anyone else to be in that position."


NEW research about young women and crime has dispelled the "myth" that girls join gangs simply because they are either violent tomboys or put-upon victims.

A study by Jon Bannister from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow claims girls are not just passive members of gangs and that, like boys, they spend time with groups from the same "territory" for both status and a sense of belonging.

However, the findings, which will be published later this year, also reveal that many young women are victimised if they are in gangs with boys. Girls were also sexually exploited and at risk of rape.

For many of the young Scots interviewed "hanging out" in a gang or group of friends was seen as a normal way to spend their time and build friendships. Bannister said that traditionally research on gangs has focused on young men. He believes most gangs are male-dominated but almost all of them include girls and that their role is far more complex than previously understood.

Young women interviewed spoke of being involved in gang fights and in some cases instigating and encouraging violence. In some cases, girls also used the power acquired by being part of a gang to explore their sexuality. In other instances, however, the girls were sexually exploited by male gang members.

Bannister said that in some cases male members of gangs saw their young female counterparts as "annoying" due to "their reported role as manipulators and instigators of group violence – the catalysts or provocateurs of violence".

Bannister added: "Young women and young men report membership of the gang as delivering physical protection from others. This is paradoxical given the degree of intra and inter-group conflict.

"For young women, there was a further layer to the paradox. Young men were routinely reported as being verbally abusive and controlling towards the young women in their group, using them for money, sex, or just somewhere to hang out. In fact, there was evidence that young women could be vulnerable to sexual assault or even rape by members of the group with the greatest amount of power."

Many of the young women saw gang membership as an inevitable part of growing up in certain areas. Others admitted to carrying knives on behalf of the boys but many of them were also involved directly in the fighting.

One girl, known as Jodie, said that once she'd carried out acts of violence "everybody was scared of me ... they actually moved out of the way for me and I loved it."

The interviews also revealed that although girls would see their membership of a particular group as access to protection, boys from within the same gang would sometimes sexually exploit them.

One girl said: "They're not attracted to him. He kind of makes them do it. It'd be like, 'Come on, we'll go over there' - If you said no, he'd force you to do it ... It gets hard to say no to him."

Earlier this year the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced £1.2 million of money over three years to tackle gang violence and sexual exploitation of girls as part of the UK Government's revamped anti-gangs strategy.

A senior Scotland Yard officer said the problem of young women being sexually abused by male gangs had grown sufficiently large to be classified as a "mainstream issue".

In 2008, Elish Angiolini, the then Lord Advocate, warned increasing numbers of young women were coming to the attention of prosecutors as instigators and primary perpetrators of crime rather than accessories to male offending.

Angolini 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.


Research on violent youth gangs typically focuses on the experiences of young men. This is understandable as while many youth gangs are recognised as mixed gender, the majority of participants are male. It is not surprising, therefore, that the gang has been conceived of as a masculine resource. Young men living in areas of extreme deprivation and in places with a "tradition" of gangs have been argued to engage in the gang and its violent practices as a means of securing their masculine identities. Where attention has been given to the role of young women in the gang, and of gender relations, they have generally been depicted as girlfriends and as victims of male violence. In cases when young women are seen to play more active roles they have been described as "maladjusted tomboys". Drawing on research undertaken in Scotland we are able to shed further light on the motivations and experiences of girls-in-the-gang. Young women can be insiders or outsiders, protagonists or spectators, friends or girlfriends. It is important to recognise, however, that while multiple roles exist young women do not fulfil all of these roles; girlfriends are rarely protagonists.

A striking finding is the similarity between the motivations of both young men and young women who engage with the gang and participate in violent inter-group conflict. Gangs provide a sense of belonging, deep friendship bonds and a feeling of protection – even if this is far from the case in reality. Violent conflict is projected as a means to securing status or "respect", through holding and backing-up a "hard" identity. It is also seen as a source of great excitement, a form of "recreational violence". Jodie, one of the young women who participated in the study, explained the sense of power she felt from being a protagonist in gang violence. How can we make sense of such behaviour? By crossing into a masculine terrain with all its attendant risks, some young women find the resources to create their identities. For them, the gang enables a degree of self-realisation not possible in feminine terrains.

Looking forward, gang interventions need to be sensitised to the issue of gender. This has to extend beyond addressing the motivations of some young women to become violent protagonists to consider the gendered barriers they face when attempting to exit the gang. Jodie wanted to work with children. She now realises this ambition will never be achieved given her criminal convictions for violence. Gang interventions also need to recognise that girls-in-the-gang face additional risks such as sexual predation.

Jon Bannister is senior lecturer at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow