A gang is a group of people who may be involved in crime and violence. Many young people will not realise they are in a gang, they will just think they are in a group of friends. It's important to remember that being in a gang is not illegal, only the criminal offences committed are illegal.
Being in a gang puts children and young people at more risk of:
- committing crime
- dealing or taking drugs
- ending up in prison
- being a victim of violence and even death.
Why do young people join street gangs?
Young people can join gangs for a number of reasons. They can join for:
- a sense of belonging
- power over other people
- money from crime
Gangs and the law
Although there are no laws banning gangs or gang membership, there are laws to prevent the criminal activities linked to gangs.
- It is illegal to have or carry drugs like cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
- It is illegal to carry any knife if there is intent to use it as a weapon (even if it belongs to someone else).
- It is illegal to carry or keep a gun without a licence, including fake or replica guns.
- Police can (and will) search anyone they think may be carrying a gun or a knife.
- Police and school staff can also search young people for weapons at school.
- Offenders who are members of a gang could face longer sentences if they have to appear in court.
Carrying a gun or a knife could mean being arrested, going to court and ending up with a criminal record that will affect the rest of that person’s life. Having a criminal record can prevent people from getting a job, going to university or college, or even travelling abroad.
Advice for parents
Be on the look-out for warning signs that suggest your child may be involved in a gang.
- Gang symbols: on schoolbooks, pencil cases, bags, bedroom posters and personal possessions.
- Clothing: young people wearing certain colours relating to specific gangs.
- Hand signals: sometimes hand signals are given by individuals to show which gang they are aligned.
- Postcodes: young people often align themselves to postcodes.
- A rise in skipping school.
- Sudden changes in your child’s selection of friends.
- An increased number of social groups with unusual ‘gang’ names your child is hanging around with.
- Your child may experience bullying and pressure to join a gang.
- They may be vague or secretive about their activities.
- Possessing relatively large sums of money or bringing expensive items home.
- Getting in trouble with the police.
- Be aware of the websites your child is viewing. Social networking sites can give access to images and words promoting gang culture.
- Chat rooms and texts can be used to bully young people into joining gangs.
- Rap music associated with gangs can be threatening and violent.
- Know what your children are listening to.
For in-depth advice, visit gov.uk