There is no common accepted definition of a “gang”. The term “street gang” is often used as gangs commonly have a street presence.

The following features are commonly used for identifying groups of young people as being gangs:

  • The group has three or more members, generally aged 12–24.
  • The group is involved in an elevated level of criminal activity, commonly involving drugs.
  • Members share a group identity commonly linked to a name, other common symbols or tags.
  • Members see themselves as a gang and they are recognised by others in the community as a gang.
  • The group has some permanence and a degree of structure.

It can be common for groups of children and young people to gather together in public places to socialise. Although some peer groups getting together can lead to increased antisocial behaviour and and low level youth crime, these activities should not be confused with the serious violence of a street gang.

Young people can join gangs for a number of reasons which can include:

  • Getting recognition from others that they feel may be missing in their family or friend circle.
  • The thrill and excitement they believe gang lifestyle offers.
  • Gangs can seem like second families where young people meet new friends/contacts, with a shared sense of belonging.
  • To gain respect or to exercise power or control over other people- especially if they have no control or reach in their close circle of friends or family.
  • To make money from crime, notwithstanding the risk of being harmed, caught and punished.
  • To establish territory – many gangs operate by providing coverage of a particular estate or postcode. Many of the injuries and deaths of young people that we see on the media are caused by gangs clashing over territorial disputes.

Many of these factors are mistakenly held and the reality of gang life differs a lot from the myth.

The following signs may suggest that a young person you know may be involved in gang activity. The more factors that are present, the stronger the likelihood. Signs can include:

  • They become withdrawn from their family;
  • They may have a sudden loss of interest in school or change in behaviour at school. You may see a drop in attendance or academic achievement (although it should be noted that occasionally gang members will deliberately keep up a good attendance record to prevent drawing attention to themselves;
  • Being emotionally 'switched off' but with occasional outbursts of frustration / rage;
  • Starting to secretively use a second mobile phone, usually a basic non-smart phone;
  • Starting to use new or unknown slang words;
  • Keeping unexplained amounts of money or possessions;
  • Staying out unusually late without a good reason;
  • Consistently breaking parental or house rules;
  • Sudden change in appearance - dressing in a particular style or 'uniform' similar to that of other young people they hang around with, including a particular colour;
  • Dropping out of usual positive activities especially one they have done for some time;
  • Being called a new nickname;
  • Unexplained physical injuries;
  • Despite being injured or unwell, they may refuse to receive medical treatment for injuries;
  • Graffiti style sign on possessions, school books, walls;
  • Constantly talking about another young person who seems to have a lot of influence over them;
  • Breaking off with old friends and hanging around with just one group of people;
  • Hanging out with known or suspected gang members or becoming close to brothers or sisters or adults in the family who are gang members;
  • Starting to adopt certain codes of group behaviour, for example, different ways of talking and hand signs;
  • Going missing;
  • Being found by the police in towns or cities many miles from their home;
  • Expressing aggressive or intimidating views towards other groups of young people, some of whom may have been friends in the past;
  • Seeming to be scared when entering certain areas; and
  • Concerned by the presence of unknown young people in their neighbourhood or community.

An important feature of gang involvement is that, the more heavily a child is involved with a gang, the less likely they are to talk about it. If that is the case, contact us so that we can put you in touch with an ambassador or one of the other partners in the gang prevention programme.

There are links between gang-involvement, criminal exploitation and young people going missing from home or care. Some of the factors which can draw young people involved in gangs away from home or care into going missing are linked to their involvement in carrying out drugs along county lines.

Relationships with gang members, and grooming / exploitation, are significant factors in young women becoming gang-affected. Sexual exploitation is a common feature of young women's experiences of gangs. While young women have been affected by gangs for years, they can remain a hidden or overlooked group, and are only recently coming to the attention of professionals.

No. Girls and young women involved with gangs can be affected by sexual violence, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, drug and alcohol misuse, school exclusion and going missing from home.

Young women can find themselves becoming controlled by male gang members (to hide drugs or weapons or to hire cars or accommodation for use in gang activity). Sadly, sexual violence is a common feature of the experience of girls involved with gangs; very few assaults by gang members are ever reported.

Gang members often groom girls at school using drugs and alcohol, which can reduce their ability to say no or which can create a dependency. This can result in them being coerced into recruiting other girls through school or their social media networks.

Sisters or other female family members who may not actively be involved with gangs can be targeted and sexually assaulted by rival gangs.

Young men are also at risk of sexual exploitation and assault from gang members.

You will need to talk to that person at the earliest opportunity.

It can be a daunting conversation but remember they may be scared or unwilling to talk about it.

We advise:

  • It is critical that they know that you care, you want to listen and support them;
  • Gangs are hierarchical and often younger children can find that they are unintentionally coerced into taking part in gang activity and they become victims themselves. As a victim, speaking up early can be a powerful thing;
  • You should try to stay calm no matter how upset or angry you are- this is easier said than done but is also crucial to a successful outcome;
  • That you try to ask questions, rather than making rash accusations;
  • You listen carefully to what they say without interrupting them;
  • Tell them it's ok to say 'no' to requests that make them feel uncomfortable and point out that it can actually build respect and stop continual peer pressure or unwanted attention;
  • You really try to understand the situation from their point of view and why they have joined the gang;
  • Don’t take any explanation personally and try not to become defensive;
  • Ask what you, your friends and wider family can do to help – try to come up with a joint solution together. Young people are more likely to stick to a plan, if they have been involved in shaping it;
  • Carefully point out the risks and consequences of carrying drugs, knives or guns (or even storing or hiding them for others) – see our FAQ below;
  • Try to find alternatives together to being in the gang;
  • Suggest that they contact an 'Ask Us' Volunteer who can talk to them and signpost them for further help.

If the young person will not talk with you, contact us to request to be put in touch with an 'Ask Us' Volunteer by emailing info@wecanworkitout.co.uk

Alternatively, you can contact Waltham Forest Public Safety Team directly for help by calling 02084962310 or emailing MASHrequests@walthamforrest.gov.uk

Young people may think that being in a gang will give them a different, more glamorous lifestyle, but the reality is very different.

Gang membership puts young people at a greater risk of:

  • Getting involved in crime;
  • Dealing drugs or taking drugs;
  • Getting a criminal record and harming their life chances;
  • Being sent to prison;
  • Adverse impact on mental health, and possible long-lasting effects of experiencing trauma through being exploited, abused or attacked, and/or witnessing violence;
  • Becoming a victim of youth violence or even death – in 2018, 135 people were murdered in London, the highest figure since 2008. Many of these were teenagers or in their early twenties who died from gang related stabbing injuries. Sadly, often people who are hurt or killed by guns or knives have their own weapon used against them.

There are no laws banning gangs or gang membership, but there are laws preventing the criminal activity that gangs get involved in. For example:

  • It is illegal to have, carry or trade drugs like cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy;
  • It is illegal to carry or keep a gun without a licence, including fake or replica guns
  • It is illegal to carry a knife in public without a reasonable explanation, which does not include carrying a knife for someone else, for your own protection, to protect someone else - even if you have no intention of using it.

Becoming involved in any of this activity could result in being arrested, going to court and ending up with a criminal record that will affect you for the rest of your life. Having a criminal record can prevent people from getting a job, going to university or college, or even travelling abroad. In some cases, people who handle drugs, guns and knives run the risk of a long prison term.

Violence is a way for gang members to gain recognition and respect by asserting their power and authority in the community. Tragically, a large amount of street crime is carried out by gangs against members of other gangs or the relatives of gang members.

This is an Independent service. Although funded by the Local Authority, we do not automatically share your personal information with them, or anyone else, as a matter of course.

It is important for you to know what we may do with information you share with us so that you can decide what information you choose to disclose.

Most of the time whatever you tell us will stay between you and our ambassadors.

We take your confidentiality very seriously and will only consider speaking to someone else if we are really worried about what you have told us and we feel that you (or someone you know) may be at immediate risk of harm or harming another. In those circumstances, we might need to tell someone else what you’ve told us to be able to help you. Only then, will details be passed to people who'll be able to get help. We will always tell you of our intention to do this.

For example, if you're in immediate danger of being hurt by someone else, we may ask the police or safeguarding services to support you to make sure that you or someone you know is safe.

County Lines is a serious issue where criminal gangs set up a drug dealing operation in a place outside their usual operating area. Gangs will move their drug dealing from big cities (e.g. London, Manchester, Liverpool etc.) to smaller towns in order to make more money. The ‘lines’ refer to the phones that are used to sell the drugs through.

In some cases children and young people who are registered as missing are being used in county lines. Gangs exploit the fact that they have run away from home and recruit these vulnerable young people to travel to areas away from their home town to sell drugs for weeks at a time. This can be a form of child trafficking as young people find themselves alone, in a dangerous unsafe environment being exploited to work – selling drugs.

They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move (and store) the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.

If you are concerned that your child is involved in County Lines, please contact MASH. Telephone: 020 8493 2310 or out of hours on 020 8496 3000. Email: MASHrequests@walthamforest.gov.uk

Please see this guide on women’s safety online which was written by women for women and empowers women to protect themselves online. https://www.vpnmentor.com/blog/the-empowering-internet-safety-guide-for-women/  A second article - https://comparite.ch/internetsafetywomen/ - also provides advice for young women on the dangers they may face online and how to stay safe particularly when using social media.
The Local Authority are currently actively looking at options to have these as a resource in the borough. We will update this page, once more updates become available.
If you think a crime is being or has been committed or and adult is in immediate danger, call the police on 999. If you live in Waltham Forest and have urgent concerns that you or an adult you know, is being abused or neglected, you can contact the safeguarding adults team at Waltham Forest Direct on 020 8496 3000. You can also complete an online referral form by completing this online form online form  https://portal.walthamforest.gov.uk/en/AchieveForms/?mode=fill&consentMessage=yes&form_uri=sandbox-publish://AF-Process-ed2335f7-158d-4299-b273-8f5e86538222/AF-Stage-6d11e6c3-1671-47cd-9c4d-3f4c9de9a56f/definition.json&process=1&process_uri=sandbox-processes://AF-Process-ed2335f7-158d-4299-b273-8f5e86538222&process_id=AF-Process-ed2335f7-158d-4299-b273-8f5e86538222&noLoginPrompt=1)" rel="noopener" target="_blank > Your call will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Drill music, originating from Chicago, is a form of rap music. Its beats, flow, and the way it’s produced, differentiates it from its predecessor, grime music.:

Drill music has promoted plenty of debate; does its dark lyrics and gritty beats, encourage criminal behaviour? Or, like grime before it, does it offer young people living in some of the poorest inner city areas, an escape route, a way of earning money from music sales and a first step in escaping poverty, gang life and crime?

Allies see it as a way of young people expressing themselves - talking about their environment, day to day lives and their reality. Some observers think the lyrics are often about obtaining money, status, and power, because these are the things people on the streets don't have.

The real danger comes when those involved in gang culture, judge the performer’s authenticity on whether the artist will follow through with what they claim, taunt, or threaten in the lyrics of their songs. It’s the perceived and actual threats that put the artists authenticity, credibility, status, and ultimately their personal safety, on the line.

Opponents of drill music see it as a means of giving violence a voice or a way of normalising the violent behaviour drill artists talk about. They see it as a platform for rival gangs to air their ‘beefs’ online, often encouraged or goaded by allies, supporters and opponents. Sometimes with fatal outcomes. This has led Police to target drill music in their response to tackling violence. They consider that the music has become a way of criminal gangs antagonising each other and making threats which result in violent reprisals being taken on the streets, fuelling the rise in serious youth violence and knife crime.

In 2019, Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick said “Drill music is associated with lyrics which are about glamourising serious violence: murder, stabbings…. they describe the stabbings in great detail, joy, and excitement. Extreme violence against women is often talked about.”

The Met Police requested that You Tube take down a number of videos and songs which they considered glamourise violence. You Tube have also now developed policies to tackle the posting of videos linked to or promoting knife crime in the UK.

Critics of this approach point to other social factors fuelling the evolution of UK street gangs, knife crime and youth violence in the UK – with the real drivers being poverty, deprivation, the impact of austerity, a failure by government to tackle social issues, and a lack of opportunity for young people.

In 2019, a study conducted at UCL (Kleinberg & McFarlane) suggested that drill music listeners are more likely to be drawn towards lyrics with a positive overall message even when it contains violent language. An analysis of 550 YouTube videos by 105 London-based drill music artists, found that songs with a more positive sentiment attracted twice as many views and comments.

The debate will continue. And while it does, there are steps that young people who produce their own drill music, can take to reduce the risk of inadvertently becoming a victim of their art.

Firstly, a number of organisations working with young people, promote making drill music safely. Groups like “Word not Weapons” (see - https://www.facebook.com/thewordsnotweapons), Project Zero (Projectzerowf.co.uk), Audio Active (www.audioactive.org.uk), and Music Fusion (www.musicfusion.org.uk) are committed to supporting young artists and promoting a strong community safety message and advising young people on risk.

Secondly, avoiding producing songs with inflammatory lyrics or videos reduces the risk of becoming a target for reprisals and the possibility that message scan be misinterpreted or misunderstood. Although maybe less of a money-making option, artists can reduce risks by posting music on less public platforms than You Tube, which has become a platform of choice for drill artists. Family members too have a role. Drill music can be made in bedrooms and be posted in seconds on social media platforms, and subsequently shared many thousands of times. Drill music and videos are also widely available online. Parents or family members, who take the time to share an interest in the music, particularly the lyrics their children are producing, can act as suitable check and balance before any online damage is done. They can also get a flavour of the messages that their children are being exposed to. Opening up a discussion with a young person about the messages in a song, without being judgmental, can help make them more open to hearing your concerns, discussing the dangers, and teaching them to be critical of some of drill music's messages.

Finally, family members can raise concerns about the posting of violent or graphic content on You Tube under the new You Tube Community Guidelines . Similar guidance on potentially harmful or dangerous content or sexually explicit content or videos portraying the exploitation of children and young people is also available online.