Am I violent or aggressive?

Gangs and Group Violence

? What is a gang or a group of violent youths?

It is a group of youths who spend a lot of time together, mainly on the streets and other public areas and who are involved in behaviours that break social norms and, sometimes, the law.

This type of group normally has:

  • a set of rules (that is, what gang members are supposed to do);
  • a group identity, normally easy to identify by the distinct clothes and accessories that all members use, by the language they use or the way they greet each other using particular hand signs;
  • a name;
  • a leader;
  • a territory (that is, a town, neighbourhood, scheme or school area that is seen as theirs and for that reason is under their control).

? What gang behaviours break social norms and the law?
  • Using verbal, physical or sexual violence against others (normally other youths), for fun, enjoyment or an adrenaline rush.
  • Using violence or threats to steal someone’s personal items and/or to break into public establishment.
  • Carrying weapons (different types of knives, from kitchen to pocket knives, fire weapons) and use them to perform violent acts.
  • Involvement in behaviours that endanger their own and the lives of others, such as alcohol or drug consumption, driving under the effect of these substances or driving without a licence.
  • Destroying or vandalizing objects and structures that serve the community, such as cash machines and rubbish bins through graffiti or fire.

Gang involvement in dangerous behaviours, including violence, is part of their identity.
This type of activity defines what the group is, distinguishes gangs from other youth groups and portrays the way they want to be seen by others.

Just because you have a group of friends of your age with which you spend a lot of time together that does not mean you are part of a gang! But, it is possible that you are a member of a gang if you and your group are involved in the types of behaviour just mentioned.


? Why are gangs associated with violence?

Violence is part of the gang's personality:

  • The gang behaves violently for the fun and the adrenaline rush it causes.
  • Violence is a (wrong) strategy used by gang members to feel more powerful than others.
  • Violence brings them material rewards – through violence the gang obtains money and items (for example, clothes, mobile phones…).
  • Through violence they resolve conflicts inside the group.
  • Through violence they confront rival groups who are seeking to increase their status, recognition and power.
  • Violence is a form of retaliation or reaction to the provocations and violence of other rival groups.

? What causes a youth to become involved in a gang?
  • To be near people we like (often family, such as siblings or cousins).
  • To be accepted.
  • To be respected.
  • To feel important.
  • For status and power.
  • To feel safe, protected and supported.
  • To belong.
  • To have friends.
  • To have fun.
  • For the excitement and risk.
  • To obtain material gain (more money for example).

It may also happen for other reasons:

  • Peer pressure.
  • Intimidation through threats or violence.
  • Being forced to be part of it (by other gang members).