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Concern over Antigua youth in dangerous gang activity

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua – It’s a worrying trend, a social worker said: school girls and young women – males too – becoming more frequently involved in dangerous gang activity, including varying forms of sex with multiple partners right from their initiation.

“I know it is in many of the schools based on the nature of my work and research I have done,” said the social worker, who spoke on strict condition of anonymity.

“It’s in many secondary schools and one or two of our primary schools.”

The official confirmed receiving reports that gang members are subjecting girls to varying forms of sex with gang leaders. They’re also sometimes asked to engage in fights, stealing and other crimes.

“What we know of, there are gangs, and one of the problems causing girls to turn to this is that they aren’t getting attention or love and guidance at home; so they try to fit in with these groups that prey on them, give them attention and make them feel wanted,” the well-placed source indicated.

“But then they are asked to prove themselves in the most degrading, humiliating fashion.”

Three schoolgirls – April, Beatrice and Charla (not their real names), recently opened up about the issue with OBSERVER media, prompting a wider probe into the matter.

Now 17 years old, April said she was part of the gang from the age of 12 up until February, when she was viciously beaten by some of her then fellow members.

“There were a lot of things happening in my home, abuse and so on,” she told OBSERVER media.

“Some days I didn’t have anything to eat and my mother didn’t seem too worried. She used to disappear a lot. So, I turned to a friend, who told me about the ‘group’ that she said would ‘look out’ for me,” she revealed, in dialect.

According to the former gang member, at first, she “moved” with members of the group for several months, but then the ‘help’ they offered for free ceased.

“Then, I was told if I really wanted to join the group, I had to basically pay $1,000. I told them I didn’t know how to get the money and they told me I could have sex with ‘the bosses,’” she said.

The teen said two of the bosses – as she later found out – were young men in their late teens, while the third was 24 years old.

Desperate to fit in, she had sex with them – all three, the same day. To her, she said, it was “no big deal” because she “min done know bout sex.”

She said the chief of the three “bosses” further demanded and engaged her in anal sex, although she cried and pleaded for him to stop.

“I couldn’t do anything. They kept me in a house for two days,” she said. “Then I went home. My mother didn’t ask me anything and I didn’t say anything … I learned how to take care of myself.”

April said she eventually recruited two school mates to join the gang. Throughout her ganglife, she’s engaged in lesbian and heterosexual relations; sold drugs; skipped classes and has been suspended twice for “fighting” and “rudeness.”

However, the teen who hopes to sit CXC’s next year, said she and the gang “fell out” when she decided to have a “serious” boyfriend, one who wasn’t part of the gang. That went against the unwritten rules of the gang, she said.

April said she was kicked out, literally. She said she was beaten and insulted as if she had stolen or attacked someone from the gang.

The social worker who addressed the issue, said he wasn’t shocked by the details OBSERVER media shared.

“I’ve heard of things like that and worse than what you mentioned,” the official said.

Speaking of other activities, which form part of the initiation process, he said, particularly males, have to commit robberies, car jackings, break-ins/burglaries or engage in bloody fist fights.

He then expressed concern over the fact the girls could become pregnant, contract sexually transmitted infections - likewise their partners, and ruin their reputations. Also at stake, he said, is their mental health, which could deteriorate, thus leading to suicidal attempts and promiscuity.

As to the rate at which the trend is developing, he said, “It is bigger than you think it is. Some of the persons who you think are role models in our communities are part of those gangs. There are adults and older teens who might have recently completed school, plus those in school that are part of gangs.

“They’re recruiting from primary schools, targeting vulnerable children. Giving them things, money, phones, food, and befriending them from very early and it is happening in some communities more than others and likewise in the schools,” he noted.

Parents, he said, play a critical role in identifying and helping to curb the trend.

However, many make it difficult to gather information and identify the predators because they choose not to speak.

Some suspect their children are involved in such activities, according to him, but wouldn’t ask their children about what they’re doing, where they’re going, who they’re spending time with and from whom they’re acquiring the material things they are taking home.

“We have another problem on our hands right there,” he said.

Meantime, for gang member Beatrice, group sex is normal, stealing is a habit, being aggressive and disrespectful is how she demonstrates authority and smoking marijuana is “cool.”

This 14-year-old expressed awareness that such behaviour and mindset are wrong; but somehow, she “can’t” stop, or wouldn’t stop.

Although she didn’t say much and preferred questions to which she could answer “yes” or “no”, she confirmed participating in all of the above.

Throughout the interview, she had a sheepish smile, kept her head down and could hardly make eye contact.