Gangs strategy to target girl victims says Home Office
Home Secretary Theresa May says the government's gangs strategy will help girls who are being "used as weapons" in turf wars.
Ministers are launching a youth violence team to target gangs.
The strategy, born out of the summer riots in England, pledges 100 expert advisers and intensive intervention with families.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government's cuts meant the policy did not live up to the rhetoric.
The government's strategy pledges to cut the number of young people killed or seriously wounded in youth violence by 2015.
Among the chief victims to be targeted are girls, some of whom could also be gang members.
Theresa May said: "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."
GANG STRATEGY - FIVE 'P's
- Preventing young people becoming involved
- Pathways out of violence and gang culture
- Punishment and enforcement to suppress violence
- Partnership working to join up the way local areas respond
- Providing support to local areas wanting to tackle gangs
The gangs strategy includes a pledge to double the capacity of family nurse partnerships by recruiting 4,200 more health visitors. The government says it will also improve education for pupils excluded from schools.
Mrs May said the strategy would include looking at life sentences for gang members who trade in guns - but that enforcement alone could not solve the problem.
The plan, devised by the Home Office and other Whitehall departments, aims to intervene more precisely at every stage that someone could become a gang member.
On a dark estate, I met up with a group of men in their early 20s who are, to various extents, giving up their gang lifestyles. They told me it started when they were just children; bored, free from parental supervision and envious of the "legends" and money surrounding older gang members.
Groups of friends started getting involved with drug dealing, robbery and endless violent battles for "respect". They still live in fear for their lives. This year, one witnessed a friend being shot dead.
When it comes to enticing them away from the gang lifestyle, the approach taken by David Anthony - the youth worker who introduced us - seems to be working. Former gang members try to get them to join a "non-criminal" gang offering training and support.
His experience is that spending time and money on young people involved in gangs will pay off better than strong policing. The government believes both are necessary.
Mrs May said the strategy had to prevent youngsters signing up to gangs in the first place - but also provide "pathways out" for those who want to leave behind criminality and violence.Supporting parents
She said: "It may be support to parents in terms of how they bring up a child."
"For youngsters at school it may be identifying those who look as if they might become gang members, helping to prevent that happening and offering them pathways out if they do become a gang member."
The government says it has earmarked £10m for early intervention work in the 30 most affected areas - but Labour said that sum has already been announced twice in the last year.
Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, questioned whether the strategy could deliver.
She said: "The home secretary is right to point to the devastating impact on victims of gang violence and intimidation.
"We welcome emphasis on early intervention. It sits badly with the 20% cuts to Sure Start and well over 20% cuts to the Youth Service.
"When you look at the reality behind the rhetoric this government is still making it harder, not easier, for the police and communities to tackle gang violence and crime."
Police say that approximately a fifth of those involved in the summer riots in London were known to be members of a gang. Overall, about half of all shootings and a fifth of serious violence in the capital is gang-related.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has released its own report into the riots - and urged the government to fully assess the impact of spending cuts to community services. In its report, it warns that vulnerable teenagers may find themselves without official support at the time they most need to be steered away from crime.
Sir Stuart Etherington, head of the NCVO, said: 'It is essential that the lessons of the riots are not ignored. While the actions of the rioters were deplorable, we must address the sense of despair and disconnection felt by many who felt they had nothing to lose by taking part."