Among the findings of the research was that girls are often used as drug and weapon carriers, due to them drawing less scrutiny from the police. In London last year only six per cent of stop-and-searches were carried out on females, and in 2011/12 only five per cent were carried out on females in Manchester, and three per cent in Merseyside. Chief executive of Safe ‘n’ Sound, a youth charity based in Peckham, Jennifer Blake said: ‘I’ve always said that they [the police] need to be searching girls, that girls need to be stopped and searched. I’m very for that because they’re the ones who are carrying drugs. When you see a young girl pushing her buggy down the street, you just see a young girl pushing her buggy down the street. But take that baby out of the buggy or go through the buggy and you’ll see what they’re carrying.’

The report also highlighted the violence and sexual abuse prevalent in gangs. The study heard that female gang members are being pressured into having sex with young boys (as young as ten), as part of the males’ initiation into the gang. One case was highlighted where a school girl was abducted and sexually assaulted by nine males because she criticised a gang member. One charity reported a practice called a ‘line up’ where young women are forced to perform sexual acts on groups of men in a row. The Croydon Guardian reported that one gang member in Croydon was told to rape his sister in order to join on gang. Rape is also used as a weapon to control girls, with young women linked to rival gangs being seen as targets. Despite the reality of the situation, girls are still joining gangs, as one head teacher told the study, ‘We can’t compete with the attraction of fast cars, sex and drugs.’

The ‘Girls and Gangs’ report follows research recently featured in Premier Childrenswork which said that 2,500 children are known to be victims of sexual exploitation by gangs. Half of the 96 gang members spoken to for that study said that ‘sex in exchange for (perceived) status or protection’ was part of gang life. Another report called the rise in gang violence a ‘public health issue’.

Among the study’s recommendations is the call for youth workers to be placed in major trauma units in gang-affected areas, pointing to the success of King’s College Hospital and St Thomas’ Hospital who have been running such schemes. It also suggests that the police team-up with voluntary groups to ensure that when male gang members are arrested and imprisoned, their girlfriends are supported to exit gang life. Edward Boyd, CSJ Deputy Policy Director and editor of the report, said. ‘We are often unsighted about the desperate lives of girls embroiled in gangs. While the media regularly shines a spotlight on the criminality of male members, the daily suffering of girls goes largely unnoticed.’

CEO of XLP, Patrick Regan said: ‘The biggest issue with girls in gangs is that we simply don’t know the full extent of the problem. The data we have is merely the tip of the iceberg and at XLP there is no doubt that we see increasing numbers of girls dragged into this appalling world of exploitation, criminality and hopelessness. They’re invisible to society and we need to make them visible again.’