A female former gang member has exposed the growing levels of sexual violence against young women who join them, saying that many of them are willing to risk being raped in return for the status of membership.
Isha Nembhard, who was part of an 80-strong gang in Peckham, south London, said that some girls readily accepted that they would be sexually abused when associating with male gangs. According to the 20-year-old, the problem had reached a point where being raped was becoming "normalised" among many young women.
"Girls who are getting treated very badly know what they are getting into. They sleep with a boy and the boy asks if she will sleep with all his friends," the Guardian quoted Nembhard as saying. "It's about low self-esteem and a craving for attention. Even if they know it's wrong, they will do anything to get acceptance.
"A lot of girls are sort of prostituting themselves to have sexual relationships within a gang and get treated in a bad way. For example, she might know about what happens to girls in the gang but still sleeps with all of them just for the status," she said.
Nembhard, who was a teenage drug dealer, said that even those who are abused and called "pieces of shit" by gang members maintained sexual relationships with them because they felt "that they couldn't do better". She added that cultural and social trends had exacerbated the problem since she left school.
"When I was growing up, girls were more boisterous. I used to be a tomboy, but nowadays a lot of girls who go to school are more girly-girly and make sure they put on their makeup and wear the right sort of skirts. It''s changed dramatically," Nembhard said.
Nembhard said that girls tended to be more sexually active before the age of 16 than before. "In my day it wasn't like that," she said. Social networking sites like Facebook had, she added, helped to encourage promiscuity among young women. "You've got young girls exposing themselves on there, making it normal, and so others follow suit," Nembhard added.