Alcohol, Violence, And Female Gangs

Principal Investigator: Geoffrey Hunt
Co-Principal Investigator: Karen Joe-Laidler
Supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01 AA11971)

This project was the first of two aimed at examining the activities and roles of gang involved women in San Francisco and exploring the relationships between alcohol consumption and violence among female gang members.

We interviewed 350 female gang members primarily from three major ethnic groups: African Americans, Latinas, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. The sample ranged in age from 13 to 31 years old with a median age of 16.

The project set out to examine the associations between alcohol consumption, violence and the social contexts in the lives of female gang members. The gangs were organized and situated in various districts within the city, most with a high incidence of low cost housing. A key finding among the young women was ethnic identification as the primary factor in the formation of social networks and gang affiliations. In addition, female gang members connected to gang networks through other varied social networks including friendships, school associations, boyfriends or spouses, and especially family. Ninety percent of the young women interviewed indicated that family members had gang affiliations, drug selling connections and/or criminal affiliations. Friendship groups also influenced gang membership with thirty-six percent of respondents identifying friends with early gang ties.

While violence was indeed part of gang life, many of the young women experienced family violence in their homes prior to street violence. Only ten percent reported that there was never any violence in their homes while they were growing up, whereas fifty-six percent reported that violence in the home occurred at least several times a month. Latinas and African Americans experienced such episodes with similar frequency, while APIs were less likely to experience frequent violence.

While it is clear that violence is endemic in the lives of female gang members, there were differences in alcohol and violence within the types of gangs that women affiliate with. Those in all female gangs drank more but were less violent than women in mixed gender gangs. For them, drinking was a social activity to be shared and enjoyed among friends. On the other hand, more than twice as many women in mixed gender groups reported that drinking did indeed make them more violent.

Papers from the Alcohol, Violence, And Female Gangs Project

  • Hunt, G., Joe-Laidler, K., and MacKenzie, K. (2000). “Chillin’, being dogged and getting buzzed: Alcohol in the lives of female gang members.” Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 7 (4): 331-353.
  • Hunt, G., MacKenzie, K., and Joe-Laidler, K. (2000). “I’m calling my mom: The meaning of family and kinship among homegirls.” Justice Quarterly, 17 (1): 1-31.
  • Joe-Laidler, K., and Hunt, G. (2001). “Accomplishing femininity among the girls in the gang.” British Journal of Criminology, 41 (4): 656-678.
  • Hunt, G., Joe-Laidler, K., and Evans, K. (2002). “The meaning and gendered culture of getting high: Gang girls and drug use issues.” Contemporary Drug Problems, 29 (2): 375-415.