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Teenage girls join fight against gang crime

STRATEGY: Grace Ononiwu

GIRLS AND young women have been targeted as key players in the fight against gang crime.

Government lawyers seeking ways of cracking down on violence and gang activity in communities have turned to them for help.

Fifty-two teenagers from schools and educational establishments in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham, Barking and Islington gave their views on how the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in London could work with them to tackle involvement in gangs.

The teenagers, who are aged from 14 to 18, met with specialist gang crime prosecutors, chief and deputy chief prosecutors and other CPS officials during the March 14 event, Girls and Young Women: Safer communities and confident futures.

CPS London deputy chief crown prosecutor Grace Ononiwu told The Voice: “None of the young women are gang members (but) are drawn from schools in boroughs where this is a predominant issue in the area.”

Among the topics discussed during the day, held to mark International Women’s Day, were better support for witnesses and issues faced by young women involved with gangs such as sexual violence - including gang initiation rape – and joint enterprise. This is where people can be convicted if it is proved they actively contributed or did nothing to prevent a crime, even if they are not the main perpetrators.

“We are really keen to educate girls,” Ononiwu said.

She said many young girls get involved with certain activities not realising they could lead to criminal offences. “We’ve seen quite a few examples. You have a group of girls or a group of young people going along down the street. One person in the group gets involved in something. They don’t understand that by their presence and their involvement with the person or a person within that group, they can be seen as equally culpable in what happens.”

One young woman, a former gang member who did not want to be publicly named, warned in a statement: ‘A lot of girls might think they will gain confidence from being in a gang, and for a time that might be right. But they have to be aware of the outcome of their actions.

"I have been in such horrifying situations that I’ve had a breakdown. I want to teach people who join gangs what will happen in the long run and what the serious consequences can be."

She added: "It’s so important that people speak out. Keeping quiet doesn’t do anything and it won’t solve the problems… My motto is if my past can help change even one girl’s future then I have done something great."

Ononiwu said the event was an information gathering opportunity as well as a community outreach. It also allowed officials to “look very carefully at the CPS gang strategy… to make sure the strategy that we put in place is right, is effective, is responsive to the public’s needs. It was an opportunity to better encourage young people to support prosecutions and give evidence at court.”

The CPS, whose gang strategy includes having dedicated prosecutors dealing solely with gang crime cases, reached out to girls in the 14 to 18 age range because “this is the age where our young girls are most vulnerable, from what we have seen so far,” Ononiwu said.

She said among the factors that make them vulnerable is peer pressure. “We know that there is a lot of peer pressure when it comes to our young people… They need guidance and they need input from us as to what their role can be, and I think we have got a huge role to play in that.”

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