Girls ‘at risk’ from gang culture

Intelligent and successful young women play an important role in Bermuda’s gang structure, community activist Gina Spence warned yesterday.

Ms Spence, who supports families and communities affected by gun crime, revealed that gangs often try to attract respectable young women to take on tasks that gang members cannot achieve because of their criminal histories.

She urged parents not turn a blind eye to telltale signs that their daughter may be mixed up in the underground world of crime, complete with trappings of flash cars, jewellery, trips abroad and expensive clothes.

The warning came as it emerged that 400 schoolchildren in Bermuda had been identified as being “at risk” of falling into the gang lifestyle.

Ms Spence said: “That figure is disturbing in itself, but some of those who categorised as ‘at risk’ are girls. It’s a huge concern that is reflective of our social fabric in Bermuda and we need to develop a long-term plan to deal with it.”

Ms Spence said that young women in relationships with gang members do not see themselves as being part of a gang.

She said: “They do not even use the word ‘gang’ when they talk about their experiences. Their involvement starts when they fall in love with an individual, but it can end with them playing an active role in helping their boyfriend avoid detection.”

Ms Spence added: “Often gang members will have previous convictions, so women are used to sign rent agreements, set up bank accounts or even move drugs.

“Being with a known gang member also means these women can’t go into certain areas. They know they’d be taking a risk by going to a club or a football match in that area because of who they are with.

“Location always comes up and it can mean that someone from the west can’t go to TCD because of where it is, so the girlfriend does that for them.”

Ms Spence told The Royal Gazette that gang members targeted high-achieving professional women because they made “good assets” and do not arouse suspicion.

She said: “Women that carry that professional front bring a lot to the table. Large sums of money can go through their accounts without anyone raising concerns.

“In Bermuda that world can be attractive to girls. For those with guys at the top of the game there are also the trappings of that life such as the jewellery, the cars, and the trips abroad.

“But at the back of their mind is always the risk of getting hurt because of who your boyfriend is, or even seeing your boyfriend being shot. That is there for ever and is just part of their life.”

Ms Spence, whose own family has been affected by gun violence, added she believed that it was difficult for women to walk away from a relationship with a gang member.

She said: “The danger for these women is that they become the gang member’s PA and confidante. They can be put in dangerous situations and they will have access to sensitive information which will make it very difficult for them to get out of the relationship.

“There’s also a huge sexual component to gang culture and an unspoken code whereby girls can get stripes or acceptance into a gang by participating in sexual activities with multiple men.

“A lot of these guys work out and take a lot of pride in their appearance. They carry a vibe and women are attracted to that and are prepared to take the risks that come with being in a relationship with a guy at the top of the chain.”

Through the Champions Programme she runs, Ms Spence has close contact with families and children affected by gang and gun crime in Bermuda.

She has also spoken to young men in prison for crimes related to gang affiliation and rivalries.

Ms Spence said: “Parents who know their daughters are involved in this kind of lifestyle really struggle. They refuse to admit what is going on right in front of them.

“Most people don’t want to have that conversation, but that’s a conversation we have to have to address this problem.

“Our charity, Gina Spence Productions, tries to provide help, support and advice to parents who find themselves in this situation.”

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