Kids who join gangs feel safe despite increased danger

June 4th, 2009 - 3:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 4 (IANS) Children who join gangs feel safer despite a greater risk of being assaulted or killed, according to research funded by the US Justice Department.
The findings by Michigan State University (MSU) criminologist Chris Melde, may help explain why youth continue to join street gangs despite the obvious danger, which he described as a ‘paradox’.

“Gang members essentially are not allowed to show fear. Their quest for acceptance, along with their immersion into this culture steeped in violence, may ultimately numb their reaction to violence, including their fear of victimisation,” said Melde.

While many researchers look at the downside of gang membership, Melde’s research explores the potential benefits or at least the perceived benefits. His research is arguably the first long-term analysis of its kind.

Melde and his colleagues studied 1,450 public school students in the sixth through ninth grades during a two-year period. The students came from 15 schools in four states: Arizona, New Mexico, Massachusetts and South Carolina.

Students who joined gangs said they had higher levels of victimisation, but also reported a relatively large decrease in fear at the same time. Victimisation ranged from the fear of home invasion to being attacked.

Fear, which affects decision-making, generally peaks immediately following a violent action. Before the gang can organise a response Melde said this might be the best time to try convincing gang members to quit.

“Intervening in their lives right then may impact their decision whether they stay in a gang or not,” he said, according to a MSU release.

These findings appeared in the online edition of Criminology.

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