What is a gang?

The term ‘gang’ means different things to different people. A group of young people hanging out together does not make a gang. A gang is usually considered to be a group of people who spend time in public places that also:

  • See themselves (and are seen by others) as a noticeable group
  • Engage in a range of criminal activity and violence

They may also have any or all of the following features:

  • Identify with or lay a claim over territory
  • Are in conflict with other, similar gangs

A criminal network, however, is different from a gang; it's a group of individuals involved in persistent criminality for some form of personal gain (this includes profit and/or to gain or demonstrate status) which is causing significant harm to the community. It is:

  • A group that keeps breaking the law to make money
  • This law-breaking is causing harm to the community
  • This law-breaking is a problem internationally (for example, people trafficking)
  • Violence is used in order to make money (for example, to scare people into giving them money)
  • They are running an illegal business (for example, drug trafficking)

Why do people belong to gangs?

Young people might join a gang for the following reasons:

  • Identity
  • Sense of belonging
  • They think it will make them safer
  • They think they will make money
  • They are forced in to joining (blackmailed or coerced)

Children and young people involved with, or on the edges of, gangs might be victims of violence or they might be pressured into doing things like stealing or carrying drugs or weapons (sometimes called ‘running county lines’). They might be abused, exploited or put into dangerous situations. Initiation in to gangs is often a form of abuse, often sexual.

How can you help a child involved in a gang?

You can call ChildLine on 0800 1111 for support and advice - it's a free 24/7 confidential helpline for children and young people - or there is more information about gangs on the ChildLine website.

The Metropolitan Police’s Safe Website has information about exiting gangs and advice and guidance about group violence and what to do if you are being pressured to join a gang.