Thursday, April 10, 2008

Girls in Gangs - Victims and Victimizers

From The New York Times Abuse Trails Central American Girls Into Gangs By MARC LACEY Published: April 11, 2008 GUATEMALA CITY — To join one of Central America’s fierce street gangs, Benky, a tiny young woman with heavy mascara and tattoos running up and down her arms, had to have sex with a dozen or so of her homeboys one night. She recalls sobbing uncontrollably when the last young man climbed off her and everyone gathered around to congratulate her on becoming a full-fledged member of the Mara Salvatrucha. The gang leader ordered Benky, then 14, to rob buses, grab chains off people’s necks and even kill a girl from a rival gang. She always complied, although Benky said she was not completely sure if her rival had lived or died from the bullet she fired into her back. “I thought it would be like my family,” Benky said of her reason for joining the gang, asking that her full name not be used. “I thought I’d get the love I was missing. But they’d hit me. They ordered me around. They told me I had to rob someone or kill someone, and I did it.” When she tried to leave the gang five years later, her fellow gang members shot her six times. The scars still visible on her body vouch for her story, as do social workers who visited her during the nine months she spent in a hospital. Horrible as it is, Benky’s story is not unusual. Her lament is one heard from young women in gangs across the region, and in interviews many told similar tales of sexual initiation, beatings and being made to rob and kill to earn their place. New evidence suggests that girls like Benky, most 18 or younger, may make up a larger share of Central America’s street gangs’ ranks than previously suspected, many of them straddling the line between victims and victimizers. “There are a lot more women and girls than anyone imagined,” said Ewa Werner-Dahlin, the Swedish ambassador to Guatemala. “It’s a surprise to the experts and it shows that authorities have been reacting to gangs without really understanding them.” Rest of article.

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