A project has called for youth workers to be placed in hospitals and sexual health clinics to help girl victims escape violent gang culture.
The Empower Project, set up by the Safer London Foundation, works specifically with young women in Croydon from 11-years-old who are at risk or who have been treated badly as a result of being in gangs.
It was set up after the SLF realised that there were large gaps in how services were dealing with young women in gangs.
Last week the Croydon Guardian revealed some shocking stories about how young women from Croydon are treated in gangs which included rape and other forms of violence and intimidation.
As a result charities have come forward with further stories of girls' horrific treatment at the hands of gangs.
It includes a one 13-year-old girl was having an unprotected sexual relationship with a gang member who was older than her.
She fell pregnant and when she said she wanted to keep the baby her boyfriend assaulted her and kicked her in the stomach in an attempt to end the pregnancy.
Fortunately the girl was already in contact with the Empower Project and was put in a mother and baby foster care placement. She is now doing well at school and the baby is healthy.
In another case, a 14-year-old girl was pressured into giving oral sex to a line-up of gang members, not realising it had been filmed.
It was then used as blackmail to force her into performing future sexual acts.
Last week's Croydon Guardian front page on Girls and Gangs in Croydon
Laura Butterworth, project manager of Empower in Croydon, said cases such as these show more prevention work needs to be done in the borough.
She said Croydon has been one of the more pro-active London boroughs in terms of its outreach to young women and its multi-agency approach to tackling the issue of girls in gangs.
But Ms Butterworth said an increased presence in schools as well as having youth workers in hospitals and sexual health clinics would help identify at risk girls sooner.
Empower currently has three young people’s advocates working in Croydon but Ms Butterworth said there is still an unmet need in Croydon.
Ms Butterworth said more can be done to help girl victims in gangs
She said: "A really high percentage of the young women we work with are using sexual health clinics. We have worked closely with staff in Croydon and they are fantastic at referring young women on to us.
"But it would be better to have one of our staff in there as well. As then they can talk to them immediately.
"Education is vital too. Not just for young women but for young men as well. You can do as much work and one on one work with women as you can but if the behaviours and the attitudes of the young men perpetrating this violence isn’t changed or prevented then this issue will continue."
Case studies: Girls' horrific treatment
Rosina was only 13 when she was referred to Safer London Foundation’s Empower programme by the police. She had been reported as the victim of a physical assault and robbery by three young men who were known gang members and was also known to the police as she was regularly missing from home.
The Empower Young People’s Advocate (YPA) made contact with Rosina through her school and arranged to meet with her and explain the support Empower could offer her and her family. She was having a difficult time at home, felt her family didn’t understand her and was constantly fighting with her parents.
Rosina didn’t want to talk about the attack against her. She said she was fearful of reprisals and this was playing heavily on her mind. She just wanted to get on with her life and put it behind her. This is something that can often happen.
Rosina said she wanted to have someone outside her family and school that she could talk to in a confidential setting and agreed to meet the YPA twice a week.
Her boyfriend was a few years older than her and he and his friends were all gang involved. She had seen a lot of violence perpetrated by them but she also expressed that she loved him and felt that he protected her - despite the risks he made her feel safe.
Rosina and the YPA explored issues around healthy relationships and gradually she opened up and stated that she felt quite fearful of her boyfriend and his friends. She continued to associate with them most nights as she didn’t want to go home and had been having unprotected sex with her boyfriend. Rosina was supported to attend a sexual health clinic and it was found that she was pregnant.
Now 14, Rosina decided to tell her boyfriend. He assaulted her, kicking her in the stomach in an attempt to end the pregnancy.
Her relationship with her family had also completely broken down. Her parents said they no longer felt they could keep her safe and feared that she may be bringing risks to their family through the people she was associating with. Rosina decided that she wanted to end the relationship with her boyfriend and live somewhere where it would be safe for her and the baby.
The YPA called a multi-agency meeting with Education, Social care and Health professionals. Together the agencies worked to identify a mother and baby foster placement in an area that was safe for Rosina.
Rosina continued to meet regularly with her YPA. Together they worked on issues around identity, self-esteem and action planning to achieve her goal to become a teacher. She went on to give birth to a healthy baby girl, no longer goes missing and is doing really well at school. Rosina said that once she felt safe and secure she was able to focus on her aspirations and felt more able to cope.
Sarah was 14 when she was referred to Safer London Foundation’s Empower programme by Social Care. Her parents had found several letters that Sarah had received from a man in prison, she was also regularly going missing overnight and wouldn’t say where she had been. There had been a drop in her attendance at school and it was obvious to those around Sarah that something was happening in her life.
Meeting Sarah in a cafe, the Empower Young People’s Advocate (YPA) explained the support that Safer London Foundation could offer. At first she was resistant. She told the YPA she was being bullied at school and asked if she could help her move somewhere else.
Sarah and the YPA continued to meet up and she opened up about rumours that had been going around the school that she was a 'sket' and that was why she had wanted to leave. She also mentioned something about a video, but wouldn't go any further on this.
The YPA was able to check the name of the prisoner that Sarah was writing to and found that he was a known gang member imprisoned for sexual assault and was much older than her. The YPA discussed this further with her and she said that she hadn’t met the man in person but was now his girlfriend and that they were going to move in together when he got out. She had been asked to write to the man by a friend of hers.
Sarah continued to go missing on weekends. She disclosed to her YPA that she was going to ‘uck parties’ and was invited to the parties by young male gang members she knew. She explained that the point of the party was for girls to give oral sex to numerous boys that attended.
Sarah explained that it was at an ‘uck party’ that the video was taken that went around her school and it showed her giving a ‘line-up’ of boys oral sex. At first she said it was something she had wanted to do, but after talking about it more, it became clear that when she agreed to attend the party she had not expected this to happen and had found herself in a terrifying situation. She knew there were gang members at the party and heard that some had weapons. When she was told to perform oral sex, she felt it was easier and safer just to do it than to try to say no. There were no other girls at the party and she felt that she didn’t really have any option than to just get on with it.
Sarah didn’t realise the ‘line-up’ was filmed; this video was then used to threaten her into performing sexual acts for the gang members and their friends.
She felt that everyone now thought of her as a sket and that this reputation meant she couldn’t say no when boys tried to have sex with her.
The YPA spent time reassuring Sarah that what had happened to her was not her fault, there was no consent and how the pressure and coercion she experienced was abusive and unfair. She didn’t want to tell anyone what was going on as she felt that she would be blamed and judged. The YPA helped Sarah to open up by providing a safe, confidential and non-judgemental environment.
The YPA and Sarah explored issues around healthy relationships and keeping safe. Sarah said she found it difficult to identify any personal strengths or anything she was good at. She had incredibly low self-esteem and her recent experiences had only added to that feeling. They worked together on self-esteem activities and having found that Sarah liked singing, the YPA helped her apply for a place on a music course at a local youth centre.
With the YPA’s support, Sarah decided to tell her parents what had been happening. Working with Sarah’s family, the YPA was able to help her find a new school placement in an area where she wasn’t known.
Through the work with Safer London Foundation Sarah was able to identify the risk she was experiencing and acknowledge that what had happened was not her fault.
Sarah's relationship with her parents has now improved, she started associating with a new group of friends and with a renewed sense of optimism for the future she has been able to move on with her life.
Eighteen-year-old Anna was referred to Safer London Foundation’s Empower Programme though a Gang Youth Worker who had noticed her hanging around a number of different gang members. She had previously been involved in shoplifting, robbery offences and concealing weapons. The Gang Youth Worker set up a meeting between Anna and an Empower Young People’s Advocate (YPA).
Anna was homeless and as she had nowhere else to go was sleeping on friends’ sofas. These friends were all gang members and she knew they were involved in dealing drugs and violent crime. She didn’t approve of their lifestyle but they were the only people who had offered her support and she didn’t want to sleep on the streets.
Anna said that she really wanted to get a job and a place of her own. She had applied for a number of positions but found it hard as she didn’t have a computer and wasn’t sure how to go about getting a job. She had no money to pay for travel to get to the job interviews, which made it even harder for her.
With the support of the YPA, Anna was able to begin applying for jobs using local libraries and community centres where Anna could use computers free of charge.
One morning Anna rang the YPA really upset. She said that she was supposed to be at a job interview but had spent all night walking the streets. She had been staying at a friend’s place but he had brought a group of his friends back to his house. Anna knew some of these men and felt fearful that she might get raped or forced to perform sexual acts, so to avoid the situation she walked the streets all night.
Anna told the YPA that this regularly happened - several times a week she would walk the streets or sleep on a park bench because she was worried about getting raped by ‘friends’ in the place she was living.
The YPA supported Anna to navigate Housing Services. Anna received a grant to pay for a flat deposit and with the YPA’s support found an affordable flat share. Within two weeks of moving into her new flat, Anna had secured an apprenticeship and began working full-time.
As Anna's life became more stable she disclosed a number of traumatic incidences she had experienced in her teenage years. She had hung around gang members and had both witnessed and experienced high levels of physical and sexual violence over the years.
The YPA found a counselling service that Anna could go to and supported her to attend weekly counselling appointments to support her recovery from the years of violence she had experienced.
Anna says she is in a much better place now. She said that at times she felt that trapped, wanted to get out of the situation she was in but she didn’t know where to go to for help. She said the YPA helped her make sense of all the services she needed to access. She just needed someone to be supportive and help guide her through. Anna was always incredibly motivated and resilient and finding support and understanding was the key to helping her achieve her aspirations.