Reviewing Gang Membership And Crime Victimization Criminology Essay

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Gangs are embedded in communities across the nation and bring with them violence and criminal activity. The National Gang Threat Assessment for 2009 estimated total gang membership at 1 million members across the 50 states bringing with them gang-related violence; in some communities, gangs account for 80% of the community's crime. This gang-related violence and criminal activity has led some researchers to focus on the victimization of gang members. Recent research indicates gangs members are significantly more likely than non-gang members to be victimized by crime. As the following briefly describes, victimization may come from members in rival gangs, the result of the individual's own risky behavior, or even from the member's own gang.

Prior to joining a gang, gang members may have been victims of previous violence and therefore see gang membership as a form of protection. Previous victimization may have occurred at the hands of other community residents, family members, or individuals who are affiliated with a gang from another neighborhood (Melde, Taylor, & Esbensen, 2009; Miller, 1998; Padilla, 1992; and Vigil, 1988). In a study of 8th grade students in a public school during the spring of 1995; Taylor, Esbensen, Peterson, and Freng (2007a) found that youths reported one or more general violent victimization (48%). Among the three types of victimization focused on by Taylor et al. (2007a) simple assault was found to be the most reported act of aggression (44%) followed by aggravated assault and then robbery (10% and 8% respectively). Overall 15% of youths sampled were victims of serious violence. They found that males were 1.5 to 3 times more likely to be a victim of violence when compared to females. Fifty-three percent of males report being victims of simple assault whereas females (36%) reported simple assault victimization. For aggravated assault and robbery the differences were greater. Fourteen percent of males and 7% of females reported being the victim of aggravated assault. For robbery, 12% of males reported being victimized and only 9% reported this type of victimization. The results from Taylor et al. (2007a) study led them to believe that youth violence was prominent and that it goes undetected as well as unaddressed. Gangs are therefore seen as a form of protection. This perception however, is contrary to reality. Melde et al. (2009) and others have found that gang affiliation actually increases someone's chances of being victimized (Decker, Katz, & Webb 2008; Delisi, Barnes, Beaver, & Gibson, 2009; Gibson, Miller, Jennings, Swatt, & Gover, 2009; Gover, Jennings, & Tewksbury, 2009; Miller & Decker, 2001; Peterson, Taylor, & Esbensen 2004). Taylor, Peterson, Esbensen, and Freng (2007b) found that gang membership protects the member from general violent victimization (e.g. simple assault), but it increases the member's chances of being a victim of serious violence (e.g. aggravated assault or robbery).

Taylor et al. (2007b) measured gang membership by asking respondents if they were currently in a gang. The results of their study indicated that gang members were at an increased chance of being violently victimized and to a greater degree. Sixty percent of gang members reported being victims of simple assault and only 43% on non-gang members reported this type of victimization. When the researchers focused on aggravated assault they found that 38% of gang members and 8% for non-gang members reported this type of victimization. It should be noted that Taylor et al. (2007b) found that gang membership was associated with a 26% decrease in odds of a general violent victimization, but a 50% increase in the odds of a serious violent victimization. Again, males were at a greater risk for being violently victimized than females for both general and serious forms of violence. This is supported by the findings of Taylor, Freng, Esbensen, and Peterson (2008) who found that males were twice as likely as females to be victims of serious violence.

Gang members are not only victimized by rival gang members, but from members within their own gang as well. Although members indicated that they join gangs for protection, being initiated in the gang and surviving the gang lifestyle requires an increased association with violence which increases the member's chances of further victimization (Curry, Decker, & Egley, 2002; Peterson et al., 2004; Taylor et al. 2008). To become a full member, the prospective member has to be "jumped in"- physically beaten by other members- in order to receive membership status (Melde et al., 2009). This style of initiation is employed to see if the prospective member is tough and "has heart" (Huff, 1998, p. 6). The initiation usually involves three or more gang members physically beating the prospective member; this enables the prospective member to demonstrate that he can fight as well as take a significant level of physical punishment (Vigil, 1988, p. 438). It is believed that if the prospective member can handle the initiation, then he will be suitable to protect the gang and its members when the need arises.

Peterson, Taylor, and Esbensen (2004, p. 797) look at Thrasher's (1927) finding that violence can range from general "roughhousing" to gang warfare to support their finding that violence strengthens the bond between gang members, and raises the stakes for prospective members and fringe members. Gang members use violence as a means to exact their own form of justice- either to punish wrongs or to deter future aggression (Dedel, 2007, p. 5).

Besides being victimized by their own gang, members have an increased chance of being victimized by members of other gangs. Studies show that gang members are involved in drive-by shootings more than at-risk youth with no gang affiliation (Dedel, 2007; Huff, 1998). Data indicates that areas with a large gang problem have to deal with drive-bys more than areas with less of a gang problem (Dedel, 2007, p. 3). Drive-bys may be motivated by disputes over territory, as a demonstration of one's loyalty to the gang, the existing animosity with rival gangs, or as a retaliatory move for an insult (Dedel, 2007, p. 5).

Gang members are also at an increased chance of victimization due to the risky lifestyle associated with being in a gang. Taylor, Freng, Esbensen, and Peterson (2008) found that increased involvement in delinquent activities were associated with serious violent victimization. They also found that drug and-or alcohol use was associated with a 52% increase in the odds of a serious violent victimization. Another interesting finding from their study was that self-reported delinquency mediated the effects of other risk factors including gang membership; however, gang membership was still statistically significant with serious violent victimization. The results of the study indicated that when delinquency and other risk factors were taken into account the increased odds of being a victim of serious violence due to gang membership dropped from 161% to 60%. Therefore, being involved in a risky lifestyle such as drug dealing and committing gang motivated crimes increases the member's chance of being victimized. Although gang members are more likely to be victimized, gang members have lower levels of fear about being victimized (Melde et al., 2009). This decreased fear of victimization may result in the gang member engaging in more serious crimes that increase his or her chances of being victimized.

Decker et al. (2008) found that 75% of active gang members and 62% of former gang members had been threatened with a gun. This indicates that the presence of guns at drug transactions may increase the chances of victimization for gang members. The deferment to using a gun may be due to the gang member's possession of a gun for protection and having friends who possess guns for protection (Dedel, 2007, p. 4; Tita and Ridgeway, 2007). In a study that explored the difference gang members criminal behavior and that of non-gang affiliated at-risk youth, Huff (1998, p.5) found that 75% of gang members reported that most members in the gang owned a handgun, and 90% reported that fellow gang members favor high caliber handguns over small caliber handguns. Spano, Freilich, and Bolland (2008) found gang membership, carrying a gun, and employment status as significant factors for victimization; and that after controlling for the possession of a gun and employment, the effect of gang membership on victimization drops from 212% to 50%. This led Spano, Freilich, and Bolland (2008) to conclude that their results were inconsistent with previous studies which found a link between gang membership and victimization. They did find however, after controlling for demographic variables and family factors, that youths who carried a firearm were 157% more likely than the comparison group to be victimized, gang members were 121% more likely to be victimized, and employed youth were 60% more likely to be victimized than the comparison group. The controlling of demographic variables and family factors by Spano, Freilich, and Bolland (2008) indicate that they recognize a connection between one's environment and the individual's risky lifestyle.

Data collected on 10,905 residents from 238 localities within Great Britain from 1982, which was replicated on data obtained from 11,030 residents from 300 localities in Great Britain, led Sampson and Groves (1989) to conclude their findings indicated support for Shaw and McKay's social disorder theory. Sampson and Groves (1989) found that lower-class communities are unable to control or supervise teenagers within their community due to a lack of resources, and that communities with strong friendship networks, a stronger community organizational structure, and adequate control over activities conducted by teenagers have a lower rate of burglary. They also found that family disruption due to unsupervised youth accounted for muggings (50%), stranger violence (23%), and total victimization (27%). Data obtained from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM) indicated that 81% of respondents lived in gang infested neighborhoods and 76% of respondents have gang members living on his or her street; and that gang members belonging to more organized gangs reported higher rates of victimization, violence, and drug sales (Decker et al., 2008). As the gang establishes itself, it may move its criminal activity to areas outside the community. This transition into other areas may result in violence between gang members. This is somewhat supported by Taylor et al. (2007b) who found that twenty-one percent of gang members and 7% of non-gang members reported being a victim of robbery.

Melde et al. (2009) conducted a 4 year study and found that at Time 1 of the study, victimization was higher for gang members than non-gang members; however, during Time 2 analysis, victimization was still higher for current gang members, but the level of victimization for former gang members was similar for non-gang members. Gibson et al. (2009) found that individuals who joined gangs were more likely to be victimized than those who did not join a gang. This led Gibson et al. (2009) to conclude gang membership is related to both offending and victimization, with violent victimization perceived as an inherent risk of the gang lifestyle. These studies support that of Peterson et al. (2004, p. 811) who found "…that both violence and gang membership are important contributors to youths' victimization, but it is the combination of the two that is most dangerous."

Previous studies have focused on juveniles in the middle and high school students; sometimes on students as young as 9 years old. This is an important area of research but it leaves a gap in understanding the impact that gang victimization has on the gang member- especially older gang members. This is because the risk of serious violent victimization increased with age (Taylor, Freng, Esbensen, & Peterson, 2008). The current study fills this gap by focusing on adults within a prison population. This is by no means a study on prison gangs, but on gang members who happen to be in prison. Unlike previous research which has asked if the student considers himself and his friends a "gang", the current study looks at actual gang members. This allows for the current study to bypass the usual dilemma of short periods of gang membership, usually 1 year (Melde et al., 2009), or the inability to account for an individual joining or leaving a gang between study Waves (Delisi et al., 2009). This enables the current study to establish the respondent's gang current or previous membership. Finally, the measures used in the current study do not have the limitation of asking about activities that are in essence status offenses, but use broader measures of victimization.

Theoretical Background

Explanations of the Gang-Crime Link

Starting with the foundational work of Thrasher (1927), empirical studies have shown that gang membership is strongly related to high rates of delinquency. To explain this association, three competing models are presented to account for the association between gang membership and delinquency: the selection, social facilitation, and enhancement models. The selection model assumes that gangs recruit their members from groups of adolescents who have a high propensity for delinquency. In other words, gangs do not cause their members to be delinquents, but attract people who are already delinquent. Therefore the selection model suggests that gang members not only exhibit higher rates of delinquent behaviors than non-gang members, but that gang members have stable delinquent behavior patterns regardless of gang membership (Thornberry, 1993).

The social facilitation model suggests that gang members are inherently similar to non-gang members in terms of delinquent behaviors before joining the gang. However, after individuals become a gang member, they are likely to show increased rates of delinquency due to the group process of the gang which provides an atmosphere that encourages and facilitates delinquent behaviors. Therefore, the facilitation model developed from social learning theory argues that adolescents learn to engage in crime primarily through their association with delinquent peers. This model assumes that gang members will show significantly higher rates of delinquency only when they are active gang members and the delinquent rates will not differ from non-gang members at the other periods (Thornberry, 1993).

The enhancement model combines the other two perspectives into one model. The enhancement model basically assumes that both selection and facilitation effects are at work, insisting that gang members show higher rates of delinquency than non-gang members, but they have especially high delinquency rates when they are active gang members (Thornberry, 1993). In other words, the investigators who support enhancement model explains that gangs recruit their members from groups of adolescents how are already delinquent and this gang affiliation are more likely to increases delinquent behaviors of individuals during their gang membership.

Many studies have tested the validity of these three models to predicting offending among gang members. In general, the results of prior research using all-male adolescent samples supported the enhancement model. More specifically, studies which supported the enhancement model showed simultaneously strong social facilitation effects and relatively weak selection effects of gang membership, although none of the studies supported pure selection effect or facilitation effect of gang membership. For example, using data from Rochester Youth Development Study, Thornberry et al. (1993) found that transient gang members' delinquency patterns were most consistent with the social facilitation model, with the exception of property offenses. Transient gang members, who stayed in the gang for no more than one year, showed similar rates of delinquency with non-gang members in periods before and after active gang membership. However, stable gang members, who stayed in the gang for more than two consecutive years, not only showed a substantially higher rate of delinquency when they were active gang members, but also showed a substantially higher rate of delinquency before and after gang affiliation than non-gang members. Specifically, Thornberry et al. (1993) emphasized the impact of gang membership on personal offenses based on the fact that both transient and stable gang members have higher rates of personal offenses only when they are active gang members. Ten years later, in the follow up study, Thornberry et al. (2003) also found supportive evidence for the enhancement model to explain gang-crime link.

Using data collected from the Montreal Longitudinal Experimental, Lacourse et al. (2003) found that being involved in a delinquent group at any time during adolescence was associated with an increased rate of violent behaviors, and leaving these groups results in a decrease in violent behaviors. However, elevated rates of violence were also present before joining a gang, which indicates a selection effect. They emphasized that this effect was noticeable only among adolescents with a history of childhood delinquent behaviors. Other longitudinal studies have also found supportive evidences for the enhancement model (Bendixen et al., 2006; Esbensen & Huizinga, 1993; Gordon et al., 2004; Zhang et al., 1999). Unlike prior studies, which support the enhancement model presenting strong facilitation effects and weak selection effects, Craig et al. (2003) found strong selection effects, supporting enhancement model. Craig et al. (2003) suggested that stable gang members (adolescents who join a gang at ages 13 and 14) have relatively higher scores on fighting, hyperactivity, inattention, and self reported delinquent behaviors such as vandalism and drug use, compared to unstable gang members (adolescents who join a gang at either age 13 or 14).

Similar to Thornberry et al.'s findings (1993), Gatti et al. (2005) found a strong social facilitation effect for transient gang members and the enhancement effect for stable gang members. Nevertheless, one notable difference between Gatti et al. (2005) and Thornberry et al. (1993) is that while property offenses were much more prevalent among the delinquent adolescents in the Montreal study, higher levels of violent crimes were prevalent among delinquent adolescents in the Rochester study when they were active gang members. This phenomenon can be explained by the different characteristics of the sample. Gatti et al. (2005) concluded that American adolescent gang members seem to have great propensity for violent behaviors, while Canadian adolescent gang members are more inclined towards other types of crimes, with theft in particular.

Explanations of the Gang-Victimization Link

While much research has examined links between gang-membership and offending, a few studies have attempted to explain the gang-victimization link using these three competing models. In terms of victimization of gang members, the selection model suggests that it is an individual's propensity that puts one in danger of victimization. The selection model, therefore, would predict that before joining the gang, gang members are victimized more often than non-gang members. The social facilitation model, on the other hand, would assume that gang members, who are more likely to be involved in a delinquent life style, are at an increased risk of victimization only during gang membership. Lastly, the enhancement model would suggest that gang members are victimized more often than non-gang members, regardless of gang affiliation and are victimized at an even higher rate while in the gang compared to non-gang members (Thornberry, 1993).

To date, only three studies have examined the impact of gang membership on victimization using the three models. As discussed earlier, Peterson et al. (2004), Gibson et al.(2009), and Delisi et al.(2009) attempted to examine the impact of gang membership on gang members' victimization and found mixed results regarding the influence of gang affiliation. The first monumental work utilizing the three models to explain the gang victimization was conducted by Peterson, Taylor, and Esbensen (2004), which supported the enhancement model using a sample of 11 to 16 year-old boys and girls. Employing both cross-sectional and longitudinal data from the first three waves of the Gang Resistance Education Training (GREAT) program, Peterson et al. (2004) found that gang members were victimized more often by assault, robbery, and aggravated assault compared to non-gang members. In addition, rates of violent victimization are higher for gang members than for non-gang members, both before and after their gang membership.

Similar to the results of Peterson et al. (2004), Delisi, Beaver, and Gibson (2009) found enhancement effects using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health data with a sample of 12 to 21 year-old males and females. Employing PSM (propensity score matching analysis) technique, Delisi et al. (2009) controlled for selection effects and found the results supportive for the enhancement model, which indicates that joining a gang is still a significant predictive factor of victimization experiences even after eliminating selection effects. Therefore, Delisi et al. (2009) concluded that members of gangs are more likely to have a higher chance to be a victim of crime beyond personal characteristics, and these gang affiliation effects do not decrease over time.

In contrast to the results of Peterson et al. (2004) and Delisi et al. (2009), Gibson, Miller, Swatt, Jennings, and Gover (2009) found support for the selection effect of victimization among gang members using a sample of 11 to 16 year-old boys and girls. Gibson et al. (2009) found that gang members were significantly more likely to have prior violent victimization experiences than those who did not report being in a gang. Before employing PSM, Gibson et al. (2009) found a statistically significant difference in the prevalence, frequency, and seriousness of violent victimization between gang and non-gang members. However, after gang members were matched with non-gang members who have similar propensities for joining a gang through PSM, statistically significant differences in victimization disappeared. Therefore, Gibson et al. (2009) supported only the selection effect of gang membership, arguing that the relationship between gang membership and violent victimization was caused by pre-existing characteristics of individuals.

Overall, studies which attempted to explain the gang- victimization link through the three competing models show mixed results. Therefore, this study attempts examine the gang-victimization link using the selection, social facilitation, and enhancement models among a unique sample. The current study has two strengths regarding measurement issue. First, the data used in this study examines a sample of incarcerated adults instead of the sample of juveniles and young adults that prior studies used. Second, the current study employs a variety of crime victimization measures to estimate the victimization experiences of gang members, such as home invasion, vandalism, sexual assault, and carjacking as well as property crime and aggravated assault. This is in contrast to the three prior studies which have limited victimization measures. For example, Gibson et al. (2009) employed only three major indices of victimization: "Violent Victimization Prevalence, Violent Victimization Frequency, and Serious Violent Victimization."

Peterson et al. (2004), on the other hand, evaluated violent victimization by counting the frequency of victimization experience in terms of simple assault, robbery, and aggravated assault. In addition, in the Delisi and his colleague's study (2009), adolescents were asked how many times they had witnessed or been subject to victimization in their experience such as being shout, cut, or stabbed as well as whether they had been beaten up or mugged during past 12 months.

Contributions of the Current Study