Girls and Gangs

One local sociologist says the trial of Ashley Benton shows that not enough programs exist to help prevent gang activity. Benton is accused of fatally stabbing Gabriel Granillo in a gang fight. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports Benton is just one example of how girls get involved in gangs.

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"There needs to be programs aimed at these kinds of kids because these kids, the crew that she was hanging out with, were the kids who were really demonized in those communities, nobody wanted to deal with those kids."

University of Houston Sociology Professor Avelardo Valdez directs the Office for Drug and Social Policy Research at the Graduate College of Social Work. He did research into male gang members and found females to be highly involved. Valdez says the girls are not members, but rather are affiliated with the gang members who may be relatives or friends. Still, the girls suffer many of the same consequences including victims of violence, heavy substance abuse and sexual promiscuity.

"In many cases it's more acute for instance getting pregnant of course deciding to keep the child at 15, 16 years old."

But Valdez's research did find some sources of hope for these girls. Those who had positive relationships with their mothers tended to suffer less consequences of gang affiliation. The best case scenario is to prevent gang activity all together, but Valdez says that's not always possible.

"You're not going to remove these girls from those communities. You're not going to radically change their behavior. So all you can do is hope you can influence their behavior in such a way that they are going to minimize the risk that they're involved in."

In recent years, there've been efforts to encourage fathers to play a responsible role and Valdez says help for mothers shouldn't be forgotten.

"Fathers need to be involved in their families. There need to be programs to incorporate these. I'm wholly supportive of those and there are a lot of good programs trying to do that. But on the other hand we've been kind of ignoring the mother-daughter relationships and I think that needs to be part of a package."

Valdez says hope exists for girls affiliated with gangs if they can avoid the life-long consequences of gang activity such as drug addiction and criminal behavior.

"Now there always is a small fraction that will transition into adult criminality and become really serious offenders and you have a whole different spin that goes on. But the vast majority, if they don't, if they make it through without any serious consequences will mature out on their own."

And at that point, usually in their mid-20s, they blend into the fabric of society. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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