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Savage Sisters: Heather Atkinson on Girl Gangs ⚡️

Girls in gangs and all-girl gangs. There is a difference and a cross-over. Girls in gangs are usually the girlfriends of the members of male gangs where they are subjected to sexual assault and forced to carry weapons for their gangster boyfriends. They end up trapped in a cycle of crime and abuse, passed around between gang members or targeted by their partner’s enemies. All-girl gangs are a lot rarer, but they do exist and can be just as violent and brutal as their male counterparts. They have also been around a long time.

The Forty Elephants in London was established in the 1870’s and quickly became an all-female crime syndicate. These women, all of whom were good looking and dressed in the finest apparel, robbed the most expensive and renowned stores in the west end of the city. Female customers were never searched back then, so the women were free to hide as many goods as they could carry in their clothes, practically emptying entire shops and making their escape in chauffeur-driven limousines. Alice Diamond, known for being a very skilled shoplifter as well as a ferocious fighter, was the most famous leader of the gang. The Forty Elephants flourished and by the 1920’s they were leading lavish lives, hobnobbing with film stars. They were violent and organised with an efficient supply network and were still operating after the Second World War.

Modern girl gangs are much more disorganised, although Jane Savage in Savage Sisters could give Alice Diamond a run for her money. Many girls, some as young as twelve, might join these gangs for safety. A few individuals get bullied by their peers, so they form a gang to defend themselves. There are other myriad reasons why young people join gangs – it’s the only way they can feel safe and loved, something they lack at home, they may be peer pressured into it, lured in by the promise of money, they’re desperate for status and respect or they’re bored and have nothing better to do. Those falling into this latter group often don’t see themselves as part of a gang but to be just hanging out with friends, although they can be as much of a terror to their local community. In some areas the young people consider it inevitable that they will fall in with a gang simply because of where they live. They think it’s better to be accepted by the gangs than be seen as their enemy or to be mistrusted by them.

Often girl gangs will unite with a male gang for greater strength. They indulge in petty crimes like shoplifting and joyriding, working their way up to more serious crimes such as robbery and drug dealing. Girls involved in gang violence often come from terrible backgrounds and have suffered awful trauma and abuse. The power they wield, revelling in other people’s fear, can be a heady drug to people who have never had any control over their own lives. They spend a lot of time defending their territory, which is demarcated by specific boundaries and will frequently battle with rival gangs. They will then boast about their exploits on social media.

Youth crime and the number of young people joining gangs rose sharply during lockdown. Opportunities for sports and social outlets were taken away, leaving them bored and frustrated. Family members lost their jobs, making the monetary rewards of gang activity even more enticing.

Girl gangs exist all over the world and are making their presence felt, especially in the US and Australia. A fascinating study recently carried out by The University of the West of Scotland into gangs in Glasgow and Los Angeles revealed women make better gang leaders than men because they only use violence as a last resort and are much more adept at using persuasion rather than their fists, making it harder to prosecute them for any crime. Men constantly feel the pressure to prove they’re tough while women view their activities as ‘just business’.

The majority of gangs are male.

But the women are rising.

Meet the Savage Sister’s in Heather Atkinson’s brand new book! Start reading here:

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