Gang and group violence, while not a new phenomenon in Canada, is becoming much harder to dismiss as just boys being boys. Not only are girls seemingly becoming more involved in gang violence, but the violence of both sexes seems to be becoming more random, more vicious, more extreme. While many academics will dispute that violence among youth is increasing, few will dispute the fact that gang membership greatly increases the prevalence and frequency of serious and violent crime among both males and females. The intention of this paper, is to discuss at length one of the most defining characteristics of delinquent gang activity, and that is the use of, prevalence of, and characteristics of gang violence. Definitions of a Gang
Are groups of youth who loiter on a street corner or at a shopping centre a gang? Are groups who get into occasional fistfights gangs? Are groups who steal or vandalize a gang? If a group uses a gun once, is it a gang? If a group uses sticks and bats but not knives and guns, is it a gang? Many argue that if a group is willing to use enough violence to kill others, whether in defence or aggression, then it should be considered a gang (Sanders, 1994). While others may argue that violence need not be a defining characteristic for a group to be considered a gang (some police forces define a gang as a group of three or more individuals who form an alliance for the purpose of engaging in criminal activity) the distinction between a 'gang' and a 'group' should not matter. As Gordon (1998) explains the term gang can be a misleading way of describing different kinds of gatherings of young people. The term gang is preferred as a better way of capturing the phenomenon; and analysts and policy-makers should be thinking in terms of a continuum ranging from a group of friends who spend time together and occasionally get into trouble to more serious, organized criminal groups or gangs.
The universal use of the word gang to refer to any situation that involves more than one person by the media all too often creates a misleading stereotype, thus the term gang is used to avoid such criminal stereotypes and exaggerated media images usually associated with the term gang. As explained by University of Toronto researchers, Doob et al (1998), "it is important not to equate offending in groups with gangs. If one defines a gang as a relatively stable, somewhat organized, group with clear or formal leadership, most groups of young people that commit offences do not qualify as gangs".
All too often, we read of Asian gangs or Native gangs in the media, and it is important to eliminate the perception that violent youth gang consist solely of visible minorities or immigrant groups it's just that Caucasians avoid the label gang because the media does not identify them by race (Fasilio & Leckie, 1993) Violent gangs are white, they are black; most are primarily male, some are female; they are from lower class communities, middle class communities, and upper class communities. The Prevalence of Gangs
Some contend that too much has been made of gang violence. They say the problem is overstated, and blown out of proportion by sensational crimes. Others counter that the gang problem is out of control, with police unable to protect people from crime. While this later view may be a little pessimistic, Spergel & Grossman (1997) do believe the trend for gang crime, especially gang violence, has been upward in scope and severity at least since the mid-1980's. From a Canadian perspective, Judge Penny Jones (1997) adds that we have seen a falling crime rate among 12-17 year age range. The only counter trend is the increase in violent crime among this age group and especially worrisome is the phenomenon of group assault of a single victim or swarming. While youth gangs are not yet widespread, the violent acts that gangs commit do appear to be on the rise in Canada.
In a 1993 study on youth gangs in Toronto, community...
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