Yesterday, the Centre for Social Justice released a report entitled, ‘Girls and Gangs’ in advance of their conference, ‘Tackling Exploitation of Girls in Gangs’ on 24th March.
The conference is being held in London (of course) and aims to address the following questions;
- What are the dangers of girls becoming associated with gangs?
- Are we identifying and supporting vulnerable girls effectively?
- What do these girls need to help them escape gang culture?
- Who is best placed to work with and support these girls?
Great, you might think. Isn’t it good that we are continuing to raise awareness of the risks faced by girls and young women? Well, no. I don’t think it’s great. In fact, I am furiously angry about it. The cultural femicide of women is clearly visible in this latest announcement.
Let’s take a look at what’s already out there shall we?
August 2009 – The government produce guidance on Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation. This is to be read in conjunction with Working Together to Safeguard Children (2006)
January 2010 – Nia (a women’s organisation) wrote about ‘Gangs: Don’t you know it’s different for girls?’
February 2010 – Carlene Firmin and Race On The Agenda publish, ‘The Female Voice in Violence.’ A comprehensive study of the experiences of girls and women involved, or affiliated, to gangs.
February 2011 – The Griffin Society publish Jessica Southgate’s research; ‘Seeing differently: Working with girls affected by gangs
October 2011 – The University of Bedford, in partnership with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner release, ‘What’s Going On to Safeguard Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation?
July 2012 – ‘Out of Place’ is released by The Howard League. A report by Professor Jo Phoenix on the policing and criminalisation of sexually exploited girls and young women.
July 2013 – a briefing report was released to the government on the emerging findings of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, with a special focus on children in care
November 2013 – The Office of the Children’s Commissioner published their research, ‘If Only Someone Had Listened.’ An Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups
November 2013 – ‘It’s Wrong, But You Get Used To It,’ The Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
November 2013 – “Sex without consent, I suppose that is rape”: How young people in England understand sexual consent is published by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
And that’s just a few. All written predominantly by women, in partnership with women. There are many, many more pieces of work which address the surrounding issues for girls and young women in dangerous and risky situations. There is a wealth of information on, for example, girls in the youth justice system, girls in the care system, women in the criminal justice system. All these pieces of research tell us the same things; that there is a link between the girls who are being exploited now, and the women who go on to offend.
And here we are, in 2014, with yet another conference, yet another piece of research and yet another set of emotive headlines that people will shake their heads at and wonder why nothing is being done. Well, I’ll tell you why nothing is being done.
There is a significant lack of joined up thinking in most local authorities. They fail to make the connections between sexual exploitation, gang affiliation and sexual violence.
They take their lead from the government who also fail to join the dots.
They encourage services to work in silos, competing with one another for funding.
They cut the funding for girls and women’s services so that any initiative can only be sustained for (at the most) one or two years.
They hold meetings with statutory service providers and develop strategies in order to tick the box on gender, gangs and exploitation but don’t actually do anything practical or constructive.
They ignore the wealth of research and evidence that’s already been produced by women in favour of yet another event producing information that we already know.
I have been a social work and youth justice practitioner for 17 years. I have worked in the city of Nottingham, a city with significant gang problems, with young women who are sexually exploited by those gangs for about 15 of those years. The issues today are the same, if not worse, as they were at the start of my work. Except the girls I originally worked with are long gone. Some are in prison, some are stuck in a cycle of poverty, deprivation and exclusion, some are dead. Those girls were failed because we had no real resources to help them get out, no substantial training and no proper understanding of the situation. The reason we didn’t have all those things is because no one wanted to listen.
In November 2009, I presented my own research on Sustaining Gender Specific Provision with Girls in the Youth Justice System to the Women In Focus conference in London. Teresa May was one of the speakers and I asked her, if her government was to win the next election, what would they be doing to address the particular vulnerabilities of girls who are exploited and criminalised. She shrugged. She literally just shrugged, and passed the question to someone else. Why? Because she didn’t have a clue, and couldn’t have cared less. I then suggested that, the funding (over £9 million) from the Corston Report should be extended to under 18’s. A preventative measure to address the vulnerabilities of those girls who would become the female offenders of the future. I was ignored. As were many of my colleagues and fellow practitioners and researchers. And they have continued to ignore us.
In Nottingham, The Pink Project hold a grass roots practitioner group made up of statutory, voluntary and third sector representatives. The group is also attended by girls and women who have been involved in gangs or sexual exploitation. We are ignored.
So, ask yourself these questions;
Why is the work that women have completed already being duplicated? When Sue Berelowitz from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner released one of the interim reports on child sexual exploitation, she was called, hysterical” and the report dismissed as “highly emotional.” I doubt very much that the report from the CSJ will be considered the same.
Why has nothing been done already when we’ve known about the issues for years? Because the voices of the girls and women is not enough. Their experiences are often dismissed as, ‘anecdotal evidence’ but it is actually narratives from practice.
Why should we pay more attention to the Centre for Social Justice and the male voices than those of women who have already done the work? I think you can answer that yourself.
Let’s revisit the questions that the CSJ plan to answer on Monday.
What are the dangers of girls becoming associated with gangs?
Sexual exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse, teen relationship abuse, substance misuse, coercion and control, offending, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, health risks, death.
Are we identifying and supporting vulnerable girls effectively?
No the government certainly isn’t. But the practitioners on the ground, the girls in the community, the women who work tirelessly –unpaid – in areas where there is sexual exploitation and gang activity do, and have known who the girls are for years.
What do these girls need to help them escape gang culture?
They need long term, well-funded and sustainable support services. They need to know that they have somewhere to go, someone to talk to, to disclose to, that will listen. They need to be believed and trusted that their experience is real and that yes, this is wrong and we can stop it happening. They need to be supported by people who don’t blame them for their experiences. They need practitioners and support workers to be well trained, to be knowledgeable, skilled and motivated. How do you motivate staff? Pay them a decent wage and prove that you are serious about tackling this.
Who is best placed to work with and support these girls?
How about the women who are already doing it? How about the community groups that live and work in the most affected areas? How about the practitioners who are already doing the work? The ones you haven’t been listening to because, well, it’s just the women again isn’t it?
So, there you go. We don’t need another conference to answer those questions. We don’t need another piece of research to answer those questions. WE ALREADY KNOW.
But guess what, no one will listen.
The government won’t release funding. The local Authorities won’t release funding. The PCC won’t release funding. Why? Because women and girls are just not worth listening to or investing in.
We don’t need another piece of research. We have enough. How much more evidence do you need?