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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Sociological Research on Life Imprisonment

A life sentence in jail is the most severe form of punishment the English Criminal Justice System can hand out, and the number of people serving life imprisonment in England and Wales has increased in the last few decades, but how do those sentenced to a Life-term in jail cope?

This recent Thinking Allowed Podcast features Ben Crewe, Deputy Director of the Prison Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, who recently published some research on this topic.

NB – A ‘life sentence’ doesn’t mean someone will spend their life in jail, they get a very long term (say 15 years) and then spend their life ‘on license’ meaning (as I understand it) they could be put back inside if they return to crime.

Why are there more people serving Life?

Crewe argues that there is no evidence that an underlying increase in very serious crimes (namely murder) is the cause, rather it is changes to the law and sentencing policy which has resulted in more people being sent to jail for life.

The 2003 Criminal Justice Act and a subsequent amendment changed the minimum jail tariff judges were able to give out for someone convicted for murder – as a result the average starting jail sentence when up from 12.5 years in 2003 to 21 years by 2016.

Jail terms for murder also increased because of the the introduction of ‘joint enterprise’, which means an individual can be convicted of someone else’s crime if the jury believe they believed the perpetrator was going to commit it.

So if there’s a group of three with two people watching the third person murdering someone else, the other two can also be convicted of murder.

Research Methods….

The researchers interviewed people who were convicted at 25 years of age or younger and had received sentences of 15 years or more.

They visited 25 prisons overall and interviewed 126 men and 21 women and issued surveys to more than another 300 inmates

They tried to get a spread of people near the beginning of their sentences, those in the middle, and those at the end or who had recently been released.

There were only 27 women who fit the above criteria, so they set out to interview all of them, a rare example of an attempt to achieve a ‘total sample’ of a research population.

Differences between Lifers from the 1970s and Lifers today

Today’s inmates serving Life terms are more likely to have been convicted younger, more likely to be from ethnic minority backgrounds and less likely to be ‘professional criminals’.

They typically come from chaotic backgrounds and weren’t expecting to be put inside for such a long time, and so they were in shock on being put inside, angry at themselves and at the Criminal Justice System.

There is a difference between male and female prisoners

The women’s live’s were typically saturated with abuse, often starting within the nuclear family and partners

Women experineced the problems of imprisonment much more accutely than men in nearly all areas

How did the prisoners construct a life while in custody?

How did the life term prisoners build a new life inside having left behind their life outside?

During the early years they were in survival mode – existing rather than living, drowning, with a feeling of having no control with very little hope or meaning.

They tried to suppress their experience of incarceration by sleeping a lot or drugs or suicide, with almost everyone considering suicide (so escape) and a lot of denial. Sounds very much like they were in a state of Anomie!

Those in the middle of their jail terms had found ways to construct a life – faith, education and therapy were ways in which they found purpose in the present, but also of making sense of the deep existential crisis they found themselves in, to help them deal with deep feelings of shame and guilt at what they had done.

Self improvement was also seen as a a way of making amends, and many had intentions to give something back to other prisoners or society. It was also important to them that they try to be good people going forwards.

How did they cope with outside relationships?

Very few had long term relationships outside, but those who did terminated them themselves pretty quickly and the women realised their previous relationships had been toxic, so there was a different dynamic between men and women in this regard.

Many men said they had improved their relationships with their parents, for women most had been abandoned, but those who had children lost them, which understandably was terrible.

How they coped with TIME

Those near the beginning of their sentences ignored time and just took it one day at a time – to think of all the time ahead in jail gave them a sort of ‘temporal vertigo’.

Eventually, those further into their sentences found more constructive uses of their time.

Ben Crewe says that this made them more mature in some ways but more damaged in others – distorted in some ways by the institution, lacking social connections in the ordinary sense of the word, and many switched off their emotions to cope, which doesn’t bode well for their ability to form ‘normal’ relationships.

It makes sense to have shorter minimal sentences

Because you can release early those who have shown themselves to be a minimal risk to society! And you can always put them back in if necessary!

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is of clear relevance to the Crime and Deviance module, especially punishment and crime control, and useful for gender differences in the way women experience life more harshly than men, and a handy link to anomie as well.

There’s also a link to Interactionism and crime – it’s the change in the law that’s lead to more lifers, not the underlying seriousness of what they’ve done!

It’s also a great example of ‘researching the underdog’ as well – giving a voice to those normally forgotten!

Teenage girls think there’s a lot of sexual harassment in schools, but is there?!?

A recent OFSTED report on sexual harassment in schools and colleges examined the extent of sexual harassment in schools, but to my mind it tells us very little about the actual extent of sexual harassment in schools.

The researchers visited 32 schools and colleges and interviewed 900 students about their experiences of sexual harassment, and at first glance the results look pretty bleak, but you need to be VERY CAREFUL with what these results tell us.

They tell us the perception of sexual harassment, not the actual rates of sexual harassment.

Girls’ perception of sexual harassment in schools

The following types of sexual harassment were reported as happening ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes’ to ‘people my age’

  • sexist name-calling (92%)
  • rumours about their sexual activity (81%)
  • unwanted or inappropriate comments of a sexual nature (80%)
  • sexual assault of any kind (79%)
  • feeling pressured to do sexual things that they did not want to (68%)
  • unwanted touching (64%)

Girls’ Perception of Sexual harassment online

And the perceived extent of sexual harassment online…

  • being sent pictures or videos they did not want to see (88%)
  • being put under pressure to provide sexual images of themselves (80%)
  • having pictures or videos that they sent being shared more widely without their knowledge or consent (73%)
  • being photographed or videoed without their knowledge or consent (59%)
  • having pictures or videos of themselves that they did not know about being circulated (51%)

The problem is in the wording of the questions….

Students were basically asked ‘how bad is sexual harassment among all people my age’ and, for example 88% of girls say that ‘being sent pictures they don’t want to see is common among people my age’.

This isn’t the same as ‘88% of female students have received pictures they didn’t want’.

All this research tells us is about teenage girls’ perceptions of sexual harassment among their peers, not the actual rate of sexual harassment.

The report also found that many girls think schools are completely ineffective at dealing with cases of sexual harassment.

So teenage girls think there’s a lot of sexual harassment, but is there?

It is worth knowing that teenage girls THINK there’s a lot of sexual harassment going on, but is there?

But having read the report i’m left wanting to know the ACTUAL extent of sexual harassment, which is much more difficult to measure of course.

I guess ethics got in the way of OFSTED doing real research

I get it, asking young people about their ACTUAL PERSONAL EXPERIENCES of sexual harassment isn’t something you can do just by rocking up for a day or two and doing a few interviews.

So instead OFSTED have got around this by generalising the questions.

The problem is ‘90% of girls thinking that sexual harassment of some kind occurs in their school’ – that really tells us NOTHING about the extent of the problem.

It’s a bleak topic, matched by the bleak pointlessness of this research.

Explaining lower female crime rates: biological theories

Do biological differences between men and women explain why women commit much less crime than men?

Biological Theories explain the higher rates of crime in terms of biological differences between males and females. The most obvious example of such a theory is that men have higher testosterone levels than women and thus have higher levels of aggression which is related to higher levels of violent crime

Some research has linked high testosterone levels to the higher rates of male offending and the more serious crimes of male offenders compared to women

Men, in general, are much more aggressive than women — a fact that has led researchers to investigate possible links between levels of male hormones (particularly testosterone) and aggressive or criminal behavior.

James Dabbs studied 4,462 men in 1990 and found that “the overall picture among the high-testosterone men is one of delinquency, substance abuse and a tendency toward excess.” These men, he added, “have more trouble with people like teachers while they are growing up, have more sexual partners, and are more likely to have used hard drugs,” particularly if they had poor education and low incomes. A separate study by Dabbs of young male prison inmates found that high testosterone levels were associated with more violent crimes, parole board decisions against release, and more prison rule violations. Even in women, Dabbs found, high testosterone levels were related to crimes of unprovoked violence, increased numbers of prior charges, and decisions against parole.

A more recent study by Dabbs et al., which pooled data from two groups of prisoners, measured testosterone levels in the saliva of 692 adult male prisoners. The researchers found that inmates who committed crimes of sex and violence had higher testosterone levels than inmates who were incarcerated for property crimes or drug abuse. In addition, they say, “inmates with higher testosterone levels… violated more rules in prison, especially rules involving overt confrontation.”

Evaluations of Biological Theories…

  • There is no difference between non-criminals and men with convictions for non-violent crimes. ž
  • Finding a high correlation between violent men in prison, does not distinguish between cause and effect. Prison, is not the safest place to be, so raised testosterone might have been an effect of being in prison. It is equally likely that a violent lifestyle leads to high testosterone level. ž
  • In general the studies on testosterone and human aggression reach the conclusion that testosterone is involved but is not a prime factor

Gender and Crime Statistics

The latest available figures are from Women and the Criminal Justice System 2019, published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2020.

The figures show that women commit less crime than men, and less serious crimes than men.

This is an important update for the gender and crime topic which makes up part of the A-level sociology crime and deviance module.

There are approximately equal numbers of men and women in the population as a whole, but 85% of people arrested are male, around 75% of those prosecuted are male and 95% of people who go to prison are male, meaning women only make up 5% of the total prison population.

Both the male and female crime rates seem to have been declining over the last five years of statistics, with fewer men and women being dealt with by the criminal justice system.

The male crime rate does seem to be declining faster than the female crime rate, with the female crime rate seeming to level off somewhat more recently.

Men Commit more serious crimes than women (I)

‘Indictable offenses’ in the darkest blue below are those more serious offences dealt with by the crown court. Men are twice as likely to be on trial for an indictable offence compared to women.

78% of males are in court for summary (less serious offences) compared to 90% of women, and men are more likely to on trial for motoring offences!

Men commit more serious crimes than women (II)

The chart below shows you that for the more serious, indictable offences such as violence and robbery, men commit around 85-90% of these, but for sexual offenses 98% of offenders are men, only 2% are women.

The most equal in terms of gender are fraud offences and summary non-motoring offences….

Women only make up 5% of the prison population

This is related to their committing less crime and less serious crime than men, although some sociologists (read on!) have argued this is because the courts are more lenient towards women (others argue it’s the opposite, saying the course are harsher towards women.

People Centred Development Applied to Gender

People Centred Development Theorists favour small-scale ‘ground up’ projects which focus on improving aspects of the day to day lives of women. They point out that women in developing countries are more than capable of promoting gender equality themselves, from the ground up, and don’t necessarily need the help of the World Bank or the United Nations.

There are thousands of small-scale and localised initiatives to promote gender equality worldwide as the BBC’s 100 women 2020 conference demonstrates.

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To my mind the BBC 100 women project is a prefect example of a gender focused People Centred approach to development – it champions women who are tackling gender related issues unique to their own localities and/ or interests, and in some very different ways.

These are very varied but here are just a few examples….

The Limitations of People Centred Approaches to tacking gender inequalities

These approaches may be too small scale to have a national and political impact.

It might require some kind of national or international ‘big institution’ co-ordination to get to the ‘root cause’ of something like sex-trafficking.

Related Posts

Modernisation Theory Applied to Gender and Development

Dependency Theory Applied to Gender and Development

Radical Feminism Applied to Gender and Development 

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The Gyaan Centre:

The Gyaan Centre is a new school for girls soon to be opened in Rajasthan, India.

Rajasthan is one of the most conservative states in India, with women and girls still being limited to very traditional roles – many girls are still married off early and then their only prospect is to be tied to their husband and household as wives and mothers.

This is reflected in Rajasthan’s extremely low female literacy rate, which is currently under 60%.

However, thanks to the new Gyaan Centre, 400 girls a year will now be provided with the opportunity to receive an education.

The Gyaan Centre, school for girls in Rajasthan, India

This isn’t a typical school, because the founders realised they would have to work within local norms in order for the school to stand any chance of success, so it isn’t just offering a ‘standard’ academic style of education of its pupils.

It is also going to be offering training in local crafts such as dyeing yoga matts to the mothers and aunts of its pupils and have a craft market aimed at the tourists who frequent the local area (or at least did before Covid-19, but no one could have predicted that!)

This is an interesting example of how a development project has to be rooted in local culture in order to stand a chance of being a success (assuming it will be of course!) rather than just being imposed by the West, and thus being irrelevant.

It’s also a nice reminder of how students shouldn’t generalise about the level of development in any country, especially one such as India with a population of one billion people.

While India has seen rapid economic development over the past decades, gender equality lags behind, and in certain regions, such as Rajasthan it is particularly poor, hence the need for targeted local development projects such as this.

You can find out more about the school by reading this Guardian article.

This information should be of interest to any student studying the Global Development topic in A-level sociology, relevant to both gender and education.

The Incredible Sexism of James Bond

I’ve been watching a few of the old James Bond movies since they’ve been on ITV recently. A few weeks ago I watched ‘Live and Let Die’ which was the first outing for Roger Moore, and originally aired in 1973, my birth year!

Besides being surprised that I didn’t remember most of it (I thought I’d seen enough Bond in my childhood to have these committed to memory!) I was pretty shocked at the incredible sexism of the movie.

This movie is a further example of just how sexist representations of women in the media were 50 years ago, there are other examples outline here.

I know that ‘classic Bond’ is well known for its dismal portrayal of women as nothing more than one dimensional sex-objects, but Live and Let Die must be a low-point for female representation.

Besides Miss Money-Penny there are only two other ‘significant’ female characters in the movie – both of whom James has sex with, and both of whom are rescued by James, although one of them dies.

Rosie Carver – a hapless double agent who Bond beds just before she dies

We’re introduced to Rosie Carver when Bond arrives in The Caribbean. She’s been assigned to help him, but she’s useless, being scared of snakes and not really having a clue what’s going on.

She resists his advances on their first night, but later on, when they’re approaching Tenanga’s Caribbean island hideaway, they pause for lunch and have sex (I know, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.)

Afterwards, Bond reveals that he knows she’s working for Tenanga and has been tasked with drawing him into a trap – she looks shocked and says ‘why tell me now after what we’ve just done’ – to which James replies something like ‘well I certainly wouldn’t have told you before’, or something like that.

She runs away and dies shortly afterwards – I guess now James has ‘had a go’ she’s not much use anymore anyway.

Solitaire – a virgin victim of slavery who Bond rapes

Solitaire (Jane Seymour) is a psychic medium being held captive by the main villain of the film – Tenaka, an opium dealer. Tenaka uses here psychic powers to help him make decisions about how to run his criminal empire – she’s a virgin, crucial to her having her psychic powers.

The first contact James has with her, when he falls into Tenaka’s Lair in the basement of a restaurant in New Orleans, he gets her to to do him a Tarot card reading, and the ‘lovers card’ is revealed, ‘that’s us’ he quips.

Fast Forward to later in the movie, when Solitaire is back on the isolated Caribbean Island which is Tenaka’s main base, James hanglides onto the island and sneaks into her chambers to enact a rescue, but not before manipulating her into having sex with him.

He gets her to choose a Tarot card, she picks ‘the lovers’ (note the paper-thin sub-plot) and they go and have sex – but a ‘cheeky’ camera shot reveals that James had stacked the entire Tarot deck with nothing but that one card.

So what we have here is James manipulating a virgin victim of modern slavery into having sex with him, I think that’s technically rape of a vulnerable adult, given that Bond deliberately used her beliefs against her to manipulate her into having sex with him, I don’t think we can call this informed consent.

Of course she wakes up wanting more, now sexually addicted to James. And of course all the while they’re in bed, they could have been escaping!

NB – Jane Seymour was 21-22 when the film was shot, Roger Moore was in his late 30s.

Relevance to A-level sociology

I know this example is almost 50 years old now, but it’s a particularly pertinent one to show just how bad sexual-stereotyping was in the early 1970s – Live or Let Die actually made a joke out Bond raping a vulnerable teenager held in slavery, as well as turning into part of his ‘masculine identity’.

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A History of Working Class Women’s Rights

Back in Time for the Factory is a really useful documentary series from the BBC which explores how working class women’s working rights have changed since 1968.

The documentary consists mainly of ‘historical reenactment’ in which a number of ordinary women (and some men) go into a garment factory in Wales and work as women would have done through the last few decades.

This real life historical re-enactment is supplemented with interviews with older women who really lived through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and with footage of news clips which document significant events – such as the various strikes which women organised in order to get equal pay.

The documentaries might be a bit long-winded to watch in their entirety, but selected clips will certainly give you a feel for the gender inequalities in the workplace in the late 1960s, how women campaigned for equal pay (with very little support from men early on) and how employers tried to dodge paying women the same as men by re-grading certain jobs after the initial equal pay acts of the 1970s!

You can watch various clips from the BBCs’ web site here.

A history of working class women’s rights

50 years ago, Britain was a manufacturing powerhouse, with an astonishing 34% of the population working on a manufacturing production line. Factories mostly employed women – hundreds of thousands of them, who made our clothes, telephones and televisions.

The factories were centred on areas of high unemployment like the south Wales valleys and by employing so many women and girls they were at the forefront of a change in British society. But the women who would drive that change were poorly paid, unfairly treated and denied basic rights.

Women’s Working Rights 1968-1972

Starting in 1968 when 85% of all our high street clothes were made in the UK, the women experience the realities of working life for women in these three crucial decades – from the excitement of being out in the work place to the pressures of ever increasing targets, the camaraderie of the factory floor and fun-filled evenings at the social club. Most eyeopening of all is the contents of their wage packets – revealing to our modern workers the deeply ingrained attitudes towards women’s work as inferior and helping them understand what galvanised a generation to fight for change.

The workers start their journey in 1968, when The Beatles and Tom Jones are topping the charts, Labour’s Harold Wilson is Prime Minister and big hair abounds. It is also the year the female strikers of Dagenham brought the Ford factory to a standstill and the question of women’s pay into the headlines. Their first task is to produce pink nylon petticoats – a staple of British women’s wardrobes in an era when only 30% of houses had central heating. The reality of the production line is a rude awakening for many – long monotonous hours with short breaks and few distractions – a situation made worse for some of our women when they discover that it’s legal to refuse to serve an unaccompanied woman in a public bar.

But that is far less of a shock than the moment they open their pay packets and realise some of them are being paid less than half the rate of the men on the factory floor.

Women in the Factory 1973-1975

The second episode starts in 1973, but even though the Equality Act had been passed in 1970, the women discover that things are still far from equal on the factory floor as the factory bosses had been given five years to bring in the changes.

The workers also get to experience the upsides of factory work – enjoying the range of clubs and activities which factory bosses supported while manufacturing was still thriving.

1976-1982

Episode three starts in 1976 when the Sex Discrimination Act had been passed and the Equal Pay Act had finally come in to force the year before.

However, by 1976, women were still earning only 74 per cent of the male hourly rate as employers all over the country found loopholes to avoid paying women more.

Feminism is in full-swing in the mid 1970s and the women have to decide whether they will strike for further equality in an age of uncertanity, navigating the world of pickets, banners and crossing the line.

Off the production line, the factory holds its own beauty pageant – an event companies all over Britain would have been happy to support as part of social life of the workplace. No beauty contest was complete without the glamour of the swimsuit round, and our factory pageant is no different. But how will the modern women feel about parading in their swimming costumes?
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Working women… 1983 Onwards

The fourth episode starts in 1983, four years after Margaret Thatcher came to power. While that event may make you think that women have achieved equality, the working class women in the Welsh factories had another fight on their hands in the 1980s – the fight for their jobs in the age of neoliberalism!

Feminist perspectives on increased domestic abuse during Coronavirus lockdown

Lockdown saw a significant increase in Domestic Abuse cases, according to this Guardian article.

According to the F-Word, the charity refuge reported a 7000% increase in calls to its abuse helpline just three weeks into lockdown, and Karen Ingala Smith, who tracks the number of women killed by men, reports a near three fold increase in female by male deaths during lockdown compared to the same period in previous years.

Why did we see an increase in Domestic Abuse cases during Lockdown?

According to Feminist analysis (and in classic sociological style) this is the wrong question….

Being forced into lockdown intensifies any relationship, and so those relationships that are already abusive will become more so, it’s almost as if there’s nothing to explain here!

The problem, according to the F-word, with how some media outlets have reported the increased rates of DV is that they seem to use the virus as a mitigating factor, almost blaming it, rather than the violent men, for the abuse.

The fact is that most of those women who had to turn to support services, or were killed by men during Lockdown would already have been in an abusive relationship for several years – so Lockdown was just an exacerbating factor, not the cause, so using Lockdown, or the virus more generally as an explanatory factor is kind of letting men off.

This reminds us that we should remember that rather than something unusual, this spike is really providing us with a window – it is making more visible the violence that is already going on for the female victims unfortunate to be involved in it.

What we need to be thinking of is not so much reasons for the spike, but reasons why some men are violent in the first place, and of course holding them to account!

Related posts

This is an update to ‘good resources for researching domestic abuse‘ and should be of use to students studying both the families and households option and Crime and Deviance within A-level sociology.