Girls raped as gang 'weapons'


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The Independent Online

Girls are being used as weapons in disputes between rival gangs, Home Secretary Theresa May said today.

Mrs May said girls and young women were often the girlfriends of gang members and were being raped by members of rival gangs as part of disputes.

She pledged at least £1.2 million over the next three years to improve services for young victims of sexual violence in major urban areas.

Mrs May admitted that girls could also be involved in gang violence themselves, but added: "More often they would be the victims.

"They would be the partners of gang members.

"They would find themselves being abused and sometimes being used as weapons - raping a rival gang leader's girlfriend to get back at that gang."

She said it was a serious issue which the Government needed to "shine a light on".

Mrs May also announced plans for former gang members who are in danger or who want to get away from their old lifestyle to be rehoused.

A 100-stong task force of experts will also be brought in to provide practical advice and support to areas with a serious youth violence problem.

The move is part of plans to tackle young people at risk of being drawn into gangs and violence at every stage of their lives, including as troubled toddlers.

Mrs May said youngsters should be targeted at every stage of their lives to help change the life stories of young people ending up dead or wounded on the streets.

Youth workers could be placed in hospital A&E departments to pick up and refer young people who come in for treatment for knife wounds, and young offenders with mental health needs or substance misuse problems could be diverted to specific schemes when they are arrested.

"Gang and youth violence is not a problem that can be solved by enforcement alone," she said.

"We need to change the life stories of young people currently ending up dead or wounded on our streets or locked in a cycle of reoffending."

Under the plans, set out in the cross-Government report Ending Gang And Youth Violence, gang members who trade in guns could face life in jail following concerns that the same guns are being traded between gangs and used in a series of different attacks.

Mrs May is considering bringing in a new offence of possession of an illegal firearm with intent to supply, with a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Police chiefs have previously called for such a move, saying there was a small number of firearms in circulation that are used on a frequent basis.

The proposals could also see anyone convicted of illegally importing weapons face up to 14 years in prison, instead of the current 10.

So-called gang injunctions will also be extended to 14-17-year-olds.

The injunctions enable authorities to ban gang members from wearing distinctive colours or from entering rival territory.

They also give civil courts the power to ban people from going out in public with dogs that have been used as weapons.

The report also emphasised that gangs cannot simply be seen as an issue for the police - other agencies, including health, education, housing and job centres, should see preventing violence as part of their broader aims too.

Mrs May said there was no national estimate on the number of gangs.

Outlining the plans in the Commons, Mrs May told MPs: "If we are honest with ourselves, we need to accept that not enough has been done over the years to deal with a problem we all knew existed and we knew was not being addressed.

"But the riots brought home to the whole country how serious a problem gang and youth violence has become.

"Gangs were not the sole cause of the riots, but they were a factor."

She said early intervention was the most cost-effective way to reduce violence later in life, adding that the Government was recruiting 4,200 extra health visitors and doubling the capacity of family nurse partnership schemes to help 13,000 young mothers.

Some £18 million is also being used to identify and support victims of domestic violence and their children, she said.

Mrs May added that the 100-strong task force, known as Ending Gangs and Youth Violence teams, would involve community activists, NHS experts and police officers.

"They will offer intensive support to gang-affected areas to help them understand their problem and develop their own solutions, which could include rolling out schemes to rehouse gang members who want to exit the gang lifestyle."

Mrs May added: "For too long communities have lived in fear of gangs.

"Many young lives have been ruined; many young lives have been lost.

"This summer showed that it is time for society to take a stand."