Hidden Girls – A Documentary on the Exploitation of Girls in Gangs

Gangs in the UK are increasingly ‘recruiting’ very young girls, as young as 10, to hold and run drugs and weapons for them and, for the even more unfortunate, to use as sex-slaves.

It seems that girls are very much the victims within gangs, as they have very little chance of moving up the gang hierarchy. They may well make it to the status of ‘youngers’ but it seems that’s where their progression stops – the best they can hope for is to be in the front line running drugs and weapons and recruiting more girls into sexual exploitation.

They have almost no chance of becoming elders, the people who run local gang cells.

If you want a thoroughly depressing watch, then Hidden Girls on BBC3 (available on iplayer) is for you.

The documentary focusses on two female victims of gang exploitation, exploring how they got involved with the gangs, what gang life was like and how they got out of the cylce of exploitation.

The main method used is semi-structured interviews with the two victims, and also some other professionals who work in the field.

Both victims had very unstable home backgrounds from a young age – one talks of how she experienced her mother (not herself) being abused constantly by her father, and when that relationship ended her mother eventually ended up with a new partner who was a gang member and her house became a base for drug dealing, she was roped into the gang that way, eventually ending up holding drugs and weapons for the gang, from when she was 12.

She doesn’t recount too much about her life as a gang member, but she ended up in what she thought was a ‘loving relationship’ as a teenager with a gang member in their 20s, and I dread to think what kind of abuse she suffered, although this isn’t talked about explicitly.

She went through years of self-harming but eventually managed to get out through finding a place in a ‘safe-house’ with a key worker to support her.

The other victim talks about how she was (basically) neglected at home with there frequently being no food or other amenities – washing her hair with cold water and fairy liquid was normal.

She ended up hanging around with a gang, from the age of 11, because she enjoyed the banter and jokes, getting giving stuff for free, and eventually being asked to hold weapons and drugs.

It sounds like she avoided sexual exploitation herself, but only because she had an older girl friend in the gang who advised her that if she wanted to avoid the dreaded ‘line-up’ ritual (where several male gang members have sex with one girl at once) she had to bring in other young girls and persuade them to be the sex-slaves.

She now regrets all the victims she created and runs Out of the Shadows – an organisation aimed to help young people out of a life of crime.

The documentary also talks about how social media is facilitating the sexual exploitation of young girls, although the links to gangs in relation to social media aren’t really explored.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This post has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology and this material on female victims in gangs is mainly relevant to the Crime and Deviance topic.

More specifically it is relevant to the topic of gender and crime – it is support for the view that female criminals (because these victims are also criminals) usually come from a background of abuse and neglect at home.

It also reminds us just how much gangs are a male phenomenon, with females being victims within the gang structure.

So there is obvious relevance to the topic of victimology here too, these are good examples of hidden victims.

This topic is also worth exploring for research methods – according to the woman who set up Out of the Shadows it is very difficult to access these female victims while they are victims – they tend to keep quiet about their exploitation and suffer in silence, so methodologically this means there is no reliable data on the extent of female victimisation in gangs and it might only be possible to explore this from a historical point of view, once they are out.

Needless to say this is also a sensitive topic, so an interesting one from an ethics point of view.

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