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Street gangs

What is a street gang?

A street gang is a group of teens or adults who use violence and intimidation to commit criminal acts.

The members of the gang want to gain power, recognition, respect and money through illegal activities: for example, shoplifting, graffiti, vandalism, selling drugs, prostitution, arms dealing, or money laundering. The group may be quite well organized, with a clear hierarchy and defined roles and duties.

In general, the guys control the gang and the girls are used as “arm candy” and sex objects (nude dancing, escort work, prostitution).

Why do people decide to join a gang?

Most young people who join a street gang have no idea what they’re in for. They join a gang because they want to:

  • earn other kids’ respect and have power over them
  • feel accepted and appreciated by the group members
  • belong to a new “family”
  • get access to alcohol, drugs, and money
  • protect themselves from other gangs at school or in the neighbourhood

But the reality they come to know is very different. Gradually, they’re forced to commit more and more serious offences, until they become prisoners of the gang.

What are the risks of belonging to a street gang?

Kids recruited by a street gang enter a vicious circle of fear, violence, drug addiction, and crime.

To stay in the gang, they have to commit violent, illegal, or sexual acts. They become isolated from their other friends and their family. Often, they’d like to leave the gang but they’re scared and they don’t know how to do it.

Among other things, gang members risk:

  • being injured or killed
  • becoming addicted to drugs and/or alcohol
  • being forced to commit crimes, such as selling drugs or stolen goods or, in the case of girls, being
  • forced to become prostitutes, nude dancers, or escorts
  • focusing their lives on delinquency, violence, fear, and destruction
  • dropping out of school or losing their jobs
  • losing their good friends
  • having a criminal record and having to go to a young offender institution
  • being reported to the DPJ (Direction de la protection de la jeunesse: youth protection services)

How can I know if someone is a gang member?

Most gang members are proud to belong and don’t hesitate to say they’re members. Sometimes they show off distinctive signs, such as clothing or tattoos, and they hang out together in the same area, often at night. They might also have drugs, money, or arms.

In general, they’re involved in illegal activities. The guys may be in charge of organizing the gang’s activities, recruiting new members, initiating recruits, and punishing members who want to leave the gang. Girls are often engaged in sexual activities (nude dancing, escort work, prostitution). They may also be involved in recruiting, spying, shoplifting, acting as a lookout during crimes, and transporting arms and drugs.

How can I know if someone’s trying to recruit me?

Street gangs recruit from their friends, acquaintances, and family members, as well as in youth centres, at schools, and on social media, among other places.

Recruitment may or may not be direct. The members of a street gang don’t necessarily ask a kid if he/she wants to join, but they gradually form bonds with him/her. Girls are often attracted to a gang by a guy who claims to be in love or a girl who makes friends with them.

Before joining a gang, a young person may be forced to commit illegal, sexual, or violent acts or to go through an initiation rite, such as taking a large amount of drugs and alcohol, fighting with the gang members, committing crimes, or having sex with one or more gang members.

How can I keep away from street gangs?

To stay away from street gangs, adopt these techniques!

  • Hang out with friends who share your values and aren’t involved in criminal activities or street gangs.
  • Spend your free time doing things you like, such as sports, drama, music, or activities at a youth club.
  • Keep busy with your schoolwork and projects that you love and are successful at.
  • Seek inspiration and encouragement from adults you know who are good role models.
  • Keep a good relationship with your parents and let them show an interest in you, what you’re doing, and who you are.

Ask for help

If you think you’re in danger, talk to an adult you trust. Go to your parents, a school counsellor, the CLSC, the police, or Tel-jeunes. Joining a gang won’t make you any safer!

If a friend or acquaintance wants to force you to commit a crime for a gang, call the police or Tel-jeunes at 1 800 263-2266. You can get help without turning your friend in.

How can I get out?

If you’re a member of a street gang, you’ve probably felt scared or anxious, been involved in more and more dangerous situations, thought about your old life, or wanted to leave the gang, while being afraid of losing everything if you do. Tell yourself that you can get out, even if it seems difficult.

First of all, think about your situation:

  • List the advantages and disadvantages of staying in the gang or getting out. Which side do the scales come down on?
  • Identify the problems you’ll face if you leave the gang, so you can prepare for them.
  • Clarify what you need: information, protection, money, knowledge of your rights, accompaniment, support from your friends and family?
  • Identify friends and adults you know who aren’t members of the gang and who you can talk to in confidence.
  • Get help from counsellors at your school, the police station, your CLSC, or Tel-jeunes. You can call us, text us, or email us.
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