4 July 2008
By Angela Neustatter
Picture: Former girl gang member in Finsbury Park.
The trial of Chelsea Bennett, who admitted fatally stabbing a 17-year-old girl, has thrust the subject of violent girl gangs into the headlines. Angela Neustatter talks to former members, and discovers a disturbing world of exploited and frightened young women.
With her winning smile and clear, perfect skin, it’s difficult to believe that Amy (not her real name), 18, was once a gang member in the deprived London neighbourhood where she grew up – still harder to imagine that she was renowned for her violence. But at an early age, Amy’s life was set on a troubled course. From four onwards she was beaten and raped by her stepfather, who was “a pillar of the community”, she says. “I felt nobody would believe me if I told how every day he came and forced me to have sex.” She suspects her aspirational mother may have been aware but “chose not to see”.
Isolated and unhappy at home, she drifted into drug addiction at a very early age. “I was six when I tried weed and skunk,” Amy says, “and the wonderful thing was that they sedated me so that I could block out what was going on with my stepfather. I was coming up for 10 when someone gave me charlie [cocaine] and then I began smoking crack, and that was extraordinary, because we were all filled with this uncontrolled sense of power. I felt invincible, as if no one would ever break me again. Getting these drugs became the focus of my existence, and I turned to crime to do it.” At 12, she began hanging out with boy gangs, matching her male peers when it came to fighting, violent robbery and carrying weapons. “When you harbour as much pain as I did, you are constantly in survival mode,” she says. “Your emotion becomes physical.”
According to the Youth Justice Board, there has been a 25% increase in offences committed by girls aged 10 to 17 over the past three years – with a 50% increase in violent offences. The issue was brought into sharp focus this week in reports of the trial of Chelsea Bennett, 19, who admitted stabbing and killing Sian Simpson, 17….(Full Story)