Support for girls in London who face exploitation by criminal gangs needs to be “massively upscaled” according to a London MP and London Assembly Member who has obtained information about the issue from children’s services departments across the capital.
Florence Eshalomi, the AM for Lambeth & Southwark who was also elected MP for Vauxhall at the general election, says her research shows that more than 1,000 girls having some association with gangs have been identified by social workers while only six appear on the Metropolitan Police gangs matrix database, which is supposed to assist with protecting possible victims of gangs as well as assessing potential offenders.
In a report entitled Gang Associated Girls: Supporting Young Woman At Risk, Eshalomi, who will stand down as an AM before 7 May’s Assembly elections, recommends measures to bring about a much fuller recognition of how girls become involved with criminal gangs and their activities and better interventions to protect those concerned.
Twenty-two out of London’s 32 boroughs responded to Eshalomi’s Freedom of Information request for the number of referrals of girls to their children’s services department during 2018-19 in which gangs were “identified as a factor at assessment”. She also made use of figures from the London Mayor’s rescue and response service for September 2018 to June 2019, showing the numbers of young people referred to organisations for support as a result of police attempts to combat so-called “county lines” illegal drug-trading.
Eshalomi argues that the number of girls and young women in London connected with gang criminality, which can include their sexual exploitation, is likely to be significantly higher than the 1,049 that emerged from her FoI request, a view shared by the social enterprise Abianda and others that work with young women affected by gangs.
Abianda has also warned that females are being expected to play a bigger part in activities such as competing for county lines markets as they are thought less likely to attract police attention. The organisation had 46 young females referred to it by the rescue and response service between September 2018 and June 2019, compared with 167 young males.
Grasping the full extent of female association with gangs and addressing its consequences requires a “gendered response”, Eshalomi says, with interventions tailored to the experiences and needs of girls and young women as distinct from those that might work for males.
Her report says that girls are subjected to some of the most serious gang-related crimes, including threats to themselves and family members, sexual abuse and “modern slavery”. Injuries sustained are often to their mental health, which can be less tangible or likely to be connected with maltreatment by male gang members.
The report recommends that the Mayor’s Violence Reduction Unit should commission a “strategic needs assessment” to improve understand of the issue of gang associated girls, that the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime should work with specialist organisations to improve the skills of police officers and others, and that the Mayor should make the necessary funding available.
Image taken from Florence Eshalomi’s report.
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