During recent years, concern has grown and continues to increase about the prevalence of gang activity in Canada, however; the ways in which girls and young women are portrayed tends to be overlooked, simplified and distorted. Eventually, girls’ involvement in gangs may receive their share of attention but those girls are often only highlighted as violent, out of control perpetrators or as vulnerable victims.
In general, guns and gangs has been a sought-after topic in the past, yet there has been little or no talk on girl involvement in street-level gangs. A short time ago, I spoke to many parents with young daughters and asked if they ever worry about their girls becoming involved in a gang. The answer was always a confident and resonant, “No.” Unfortunately, this response did not come as a surprise to me since it accurately parallels with commonly held social beliefs.
Recent statistics show that the number of gangs overall is on the rise in Canada. An increase in gangs also suggested an increase in female involvement in gangs and their drug distribution networks. It may or may not come as a shock to many readers but during these changing times, some parts of Canada are now home to numerous girls-only gangs. This phenomenon of girls-only gangs are more common and dangerous in the American culture whereas Canada has been quite unaffected by the development of this gang category. Since culture is contagious, it won’t be difficult to predict the damaging effect that Canadian girls-only gangs can have here, in the near future.
Whenever a gang member is shot on the street, the first automated thought that comes to mind is that of a male gang member who met his fate, however; that is not always the case. If we closely analyze some of the gangland murder stories from the recent past, there have been a number of homicides have been targeted by rival gang members simply due to their associations with opposing gangs. Below are a few of the stories that made headlines across Canada:
July 28, 2010 – 22 year-old Mandie Astin Johnson was gunned down in a car in Abbotsford.
Feb 2009 – 22 year-old female Briann Kinnear was shot to death in a black Dodge pickup in Coquitlam. According to the police release at the time, all of the signs indicated a targeted murder. Just five weeks prior to her killing, Brianna Helen Kinnear received an eight-month conditional sentence for three trafficking convictions in Port Coquitlam Provincial Court.
Feb 2009 – 23 year-old Nicole Marie Alemy was sprayed with bullets while driving in her husband’s silver Cadillac. She died before the eyes of her young child who was still strapped in the child-safety seat.
March 2009 – 36 year-old Laura Lamoureux was found shot to death in a Langley home. Police identified her as a street-level drug dealer. Her death also had all the trademarks of a gangland murder.
August 2009 – 23 year-old Jessica Illes was gunned down during a gangland hit in her Abbotsford basement suite. Illes was killed just days after the body of her boyfriend, Bobby DiGeorgio, was found in a burned-out car near the U.S. border.
October 2008 – Brittany Joan Giese, 19, was killed in a Prince George house.
August 2005 – Lexi Madsen, 26, died from gunfire in a car near the University of the Fraser Valley, from which she had just graduated.
“It is disturbing whenever we hear about another victim of gang crime,” says Sergeant Lindsey Houghton, spokesperson with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia. “While most victims are men, we have seen a number of their girlfriends and wives caught in the crossfire of a gang war they have nothing to do with, but their association to these men put them at great risk with some of them losing their lives. Hanging out with gang members can get you killed and that includes women,” he says.
These were few of the examples of young females dying due to some sort of gang involvement or merely their association to gangs. These murders raised the alarm that women are no longer “safe” from gang brutality. Times have changed and so have the rules of the game. In earlier days, the gangs carried an unwritten code that kept women out of bounds and somewhat sheltered. Also, women were often socialized in a way that rejected a violent lifestyle. These ideologies are continuously being challenged by the oncoming of these murders and many more.
The previously listed murder cases quickly become precedents that are likely to foreshadow similar events in the future. In previous decades, there existed a code in the previous decades that protected women from violence – the notion that one was not to violently target a woman under any circumstances. It has become evident that the value of this code has been diminishing recently. It is not only due to the fact that women are becoming more vulnerable but rather, they are also taking certain risks by actively participating in the game of gangs and breaking the rules that apply. Any individual to step on enemy territory is subject to questioning, regardless of male or female. The consequences nowadays, are comparable.
According to a report released by Statistics Canada, the number of Canadian males behind bars decreased by nine per cent between 2002 and 2007, while the number of women jumped by 11 per cent.
Recent data suggests that female gang membership and women’s involvement in criminal activities are strikingly on the rise in Canada and beyond its borders. Girls are narrowing the gender gap in terms of drug use and abuse and they are also no longer just appendages to male gangs. As noted earlier, some are forming gangs of their own.
Throughout the nation, females are approximately taking six percent of the positions in a gang. This ranges from a low of three per cent in Ontario to a high of 12 per cent in B.C., according to a study conducted by Canadian gang expert Michael Chettleburgh. Since the police traditionally under-arrest females, Chettleburgh thinks those figures are grossly understated; he believes the true number is closer to a third, adding that Canada recently welcomed its first all-female gang. The Indian Posse Girls, supplementary to the Winnipeg-based Indian Posse gang, are thought to be the primary controllers of Edmonton’s sex trade. As women closely manage the sex trade field, they find it more effortless to recruit women into this workforce as well.
Carrying illegal products and weapons are often more convenient to be passed on to female gang associates since they are less likely to be under the suspicion of the police. Whereas a group of males may be under close watch due to previous records and reports, females escape the attention. Social stereotypes tend to favour women in ways that leave men helpless. Women are able to use their bodies to an advantage and replace the need for men to hide things in their sleeves or pockets.
A story that was widely covered by media across the country was that of the 20 year-old Jasmin Klair, a British Columbia resident who was arrested in the US for smuggling almost 24 pounds of cocaine. According to court documents, Jasmin alleged that she was persuaded by a 24 year-old male from British Columbia to smuggle cocaine into Canada. Jasmin Klair agreed to take part in the drug trafficking run for only $4000.
Above is just one of many examples where females have been arrested with contraband – illegal transactions of goods. The part that becomes more shocking is the fact that these young girls agree to immense risk for minimum or no compensation. Money is also a factor that drives girls into criminal activity whereas some simply participate to perform favours to their drug-dealer boyfriends. In some cases, these drug-dealer boyfriends may offer to purchase name-brand items (bags, jewelry, clothing etc.) for their girlfriends and use this method to keep them engaged with performing risk-taking favours that mask their own actions.
Criminal activities do not stop at drug trafficking only. During my service as a police officer, I have witnessed young girls getting involved in wide range of criminal activities. Electronic fraud is another way for gangs to earn large amounts of money. There are many loopholes found that allow gangsters to scam banks and department stores. One strategy is to use the women on their team to obtain jobs at the bank, insurance companies, mortgage brokers etc. It is evident that females are not given a sense of self-control and are used as objects as a means to an end. Research on female gangsters lacks public attention and significance, which could ultimately assist to enlighten common misunderstandings among the society.
As mentioned above, females are often employed and objectified by male gangsters. This is a socially concerning fact that allows women to face sexual exploitation and other harmful assaults. Female gangsters rarely inch up the ladder to participate in the bigger scheme of things. Their roles may consist of escorts, prostitutes, drivers, and information gatherers that are kept beneath and simply used by other members to achieve their own goals. Some victims were the girlfriends and wives of gang members.
Female gangsters are also able to gain importance and status through dating notorious gangsters but it is crucial to note that they also put their lives at much more risk. It is through association that gang members feel power and it is no different between males or females. Women join gangs to be noticed, to feel important and to be a part of something significant. Desperation for the spotlight may have evolved from problems of abuse, poverty or neglect in their own households that leads to the need of finding an escape. An escape that often traps.
Once again, not all females play substantial roles in gangs. A majority of the females are exploited sexually and act merely as entertainment for other gang members. These young victims do not approach the police or their parents for the fear of being exposed. Some constantly fear the wrath of the gang that they are part of and as a result, they continue to be exploited.
Reasons Girls join Gangs
Even the ideal parents can sometimes fail to identify that their child is having a problem at school or home, or is headed down a dangerous path. Teens can be elusive and difficult to read since many indiscretions tend to be attributed to typical teen angst and growing pains. This section will help you to differentiate between growing pains and a serious problem, as well as assist you to know the signs of trouble before it is too late.
Our aim is to provide you with the tools that you need to help keep our schools and community safe. Instead of living in constant fear and paranoia for your child’s safety at school, it is important to use these strategies and seek help to eliminate these issues altogether. Schools are meant for providing your children with a good education – which in turn will encourage them to be good citizens of the community – and that is what the focus should continue to be for all of us. Additionally, the topics covered in this section are geared to help you and your children identify another student or child that may be at risk of being a victim/instigator of school violence/crime of any kind. Knowing the signs could mean life or death in some cases, so please take some time to read through the information here and develop a dialogue with your children regardless of whether there exists a concern. Awareness is key.
Most girls join gangs for many of the same reasons young males do. Some of these reasons include:
• Peer pressure
• Family structure
• Sexual, verbal, or physical abuse in their homes
• Boyfriend is a gang member
Girls initially join gangs for the main reason that boys do, which is to feel like they belong. They may join in hope of gaining power and respect; however, they may not be aware that evoking fear in others does not equal respect. Some girls join gangs to gain popularity while others are pressured and/or threatened with violence to forcefully join. The all-girl gangs are no different. Since their presence, they have been making their ways to our schools and putting the lives of students as well as their own lives at great risk. A female gang member is not exempt from physical injury or death from conflict with other gangs, retaliation for crimes that they’ve committed or simply being targeted for their association with a particular gang. They also put their own lives at risk of being expelled from schools, serving time at a jail or being considered a gang member to a gang that has done much wrong.
Time and time again, it has come to light that many young girls are lured into gangs by being offered easy access to money or to do their gangster boyfriends a favour or two. In some cases these young girls do not come to realize that by performing what seem to be “simple tasks” for their gangster friend/boyfriend, they are fully participating in criminal activity. If caught, they would be looked upon equally as active members of that gang.
Previously mentioned, 20 year-old BC resident Jasmin Klair was arrested in the US for trafficking approximately 24 kilos of cocaine. During the post-arrest interview and subsequent trial, it came to light that Jasmin had agreed to smuggle the drug shipment for only $4000 dollars.
The case of Jasmin is not an isolated incident. Young girls getting injured, murdered or getting caught is becoming a reality. Some girls find it “cool” to hide drugs or weapons at their house or in their vehicle for their boyfriend, who is involved in criminal activity. These girls do so with a false sense of security that the police will not suspect them due to their gender. This notion needs to change. Now that we have talked about the presence of girls in gangs, let’s highlight what can be done to prevent girls from joining such gangs.
What parents can do to prevent gang involvement:
• Never blindly believe “not my child”
• Spend quality time with your daughter. This will keep lines of communication open for a healthy honest relationship.
• Encourage your daughter to be involved in extracurricular activities (e.g. recreation centers, volunteer work, sports, clubs, etc.)
• Keep track of unidentified expensive articles of clothing, jewelry and/or accessories
• Know your daughter’s friends and her friend’s parents
• Be aware of your daughter’s love interest. Insist on meeting this person before you allow her to spend time with them. Again, this is only via good communication will she feel comfortable with sharing. Make that a priority.
• Follow-up on your daughter’s story. If she says she’s sleeping at a friend’s, call and make sure. Respect her space but understand that the risk of safety outweighs anything else
• Educate yourself and your daughter on gangs and the dangers that they present
Keeping your daughter safe from gangs means clearly indicating that any involvement with a gang will not be tolerated. Girls need to be told what the dangers of gang involvement are, as well as the consequences of joining one. As much as you may feel like this topic is one that should be limited to your sons or male students, the sad reality is that girl gangs are becoming a major social problem that needs to be taken seriously.
by Det. Jag Khosa
Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit
For the last 8 years, he has been serving as a Police officer starting as an enforcement officer in Alberta and BC, and then transitioning into hiscurrent role as a Detective with Organized Crime Agency of BC which operates under the umbrella of Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – BC (CFSEU-BC).
At CFSEU, he had an opportunity be part of many major case investigations relating to homicides, international drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and other activities of organized crime groups. These projects were aimed at disrupting and suppressing gangs and organized crime groups across Canada. On the enforcement side, CFSEU-BC has been doing a great job in investigating and hindering movement of these violent Organized Gangs however there has been a void in raising awareness against gang lifestyle. Now he feels this is the right time to raise public awareness and educate parents and youth with knowledge and the appropriate skills that they could use in their own journey towards happy families and safer communities.
He believes that it is imperative to spread the message that we as a community can take an active role at a preventative stage and no one has to fight this battle alone. Turning around a misguided young person starts with one-on-one intervention. Parents who become involved with their child’s life from an early age had a higher chance of keeping their young ones away from negative influence of gangs. This article is his attempt to initiate a dialogue on a subject that has not been widely discussed.