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I Got Your Back: An Examination of the Protective Function of Gang Membership in Adolescence

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 47 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2009 Pages: 565-594
Date Published
May 2009
30 pages

In order to test whether joining a gang provides more protection from victimization than not being a gang member, this study compared panel data on victimization for both gang and nongang members for youth between the ages of 10 and 16 years old in the States of Arizona, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and South Carolina.


The study found a positive relationship between being in a gang and experiencing victimization. Gang members' increased availability of drugs and/or alcohol and involvement in delinquent activities compared to nongang members explained the victimization differences between gang and nongang members. This supports findings from previous studies that have shown increased victimization risk for gang members compared to their nongang peers. This study found, however, that when it came to the subjective fear of victimization, gang members reported less anxiety related to the threat of future victimization, although they reported higher perceptions of victimization risk. This suggests that the gang provides a sense of emotional support in the midst of a dangerous lifestyle that increases gang members' risk for victimization. The data used in this study were part of an evaluation of a school-based, law-related education program. Approximately 250 schools that offered the program were contacted. The final sample of 15 schools consisted of 9 in Arizona, 1 in New Mexico, 2 in Massachusetts, and 3 in South Carolina. A total of 1,450 students were in the final sample; gang membership was not significantly associated with attrition across the 2 waves of data collection. Gang membership was measured with a single-item, self-report measure; 11 percent of the sample indicated membership in a youth gang during the two waves of data collection. Questions also measured participant's perceived risk and fear of crime. 2 tables and 68 references

Date Published: May 1, 2009