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fight; violence; gang; street; crew; crime; bikey; organised; weapon; knife; brawl; graf; graffiti; shop; lift; steal; police; jail; tattoo; tag;


Gangs and gang violence appear in movies and in the news from time to time. But what is the reality of gangs, crews, or organised crime?

What is a gang?

When people talk about a group or a club, it is usually in a positive way, ie people that play sports together or raise money for charity.

Gangs are usually talked about in a negative way, ie a group that causes trouble or does crime. Often a group that does something negative will do it once, but if others label them as a gang, eg the media, it can lead to people becoming proud and calling themselves a gang.

Some things that people see as identifying a gang include:

  • Wearing similar clothes.
  • A greeting, like a handshake.
  • They might be from a particular ethnic group, or a group of young people who live in the same neighbourhood, or the same street.
  • They may be young people who used to go to the same school, or who support the same sports team.
  • Sometimes parents are worried that a young person is getting into 'the wrong group of friends' (or a gang) where they are more likely to start dropping out of school, using alcohol or other drugs, doing crime.

Why people join or form gangs

  • To try to be accepted by others.
  • In the belief they will gain respect from others.
  • They want to feel like a part of something, sense of belonging.
  • Peer pressure.
  • Boredom.
  • For fun and to take risks.
  • For protection, or to avoid violence on the street.
  • Because of racism.
  • In a reaction to social disadvantage.

Effects of gang life

There are many ways that being a member of a gang can affect your life.

Although being the member of a gang might mean you have new friends, feel accepted and part of something, and having fun, it is also possible that your health, welfare and safety are at risk. This does depend on what the gang does, particularly if it is involved in doing any crime. If the gang gets involved in crime, particularly violent crime with rival gangs, there is definitely increased risk for you, and possibly your other non gang friends and family.

Gang violence

  • Some gang members can be quite violent with other gangs of people who they see as threatening or opposed to them. Street fights might escalate to using knives and even guns.
  • Some gangs of young people do illegal things such as shop lifting, house breaking, theft of cars, assaulting others.
  • Some gangs of adults can be very violent, deal in drugs and commit other crimes.
  • Usually in a gang there are leaders and followers. The leaders may be older or stronger; often they are bullies who make others do things.

These are the groups that many in the community fear and want to have punished by the law.

Fear of these gangs can make it difficult for other groups of people who just want to have fun together. Young people who just hang out in public spaces, like shopping centres, often find they are asked to move on, or are blamed for the bad behaviour of others (gangs).

Leaving a gang

Whether you joined a gang or just incidentally became part of one, you may now decide that you don't want to be involved in that kind of lifestyle and culture any more. This may be harder than it sounds. Some gangs believe that once you are "in" you don't get out again. They may feel that you are betraying them somehow and might get them in trouble. They may also like to have power and control over you and resist you trying to get your individuality and leaving the gang.

Be aware of this and how it could affect your safety. It might be that you have to move somewhere else to live, or even have to call the Police if you feel harassed or hassled. Ask someone you trust for advice if you don't know how to deal with this. You could talk to someone anonymously on the phone to get some advice, see below for some numbers.

A victim of a gang

It may be that you have been a victim of a gang, maybe harassed, attacked, followed, threatened, bribed or pressured into doing something or giving something to them. This can be a very frightening and threatening experience. They are trying to intimidate you because they feel "safe" and part of a large group, but you do not have to let them succeed in this.

It is important that if you are a victim, to speak to someone and seek help.

  • Maybe there is a School Counsellor, Youth Service, or a person in authority you can talk to and who can help you decide what to do.
  • By involving the police, the gang will know that you are serious and the police will be aware of the gang and can protect other members of the community.

The police and the law

The police could be a good friend if you want to get out of a gang, or you are being harassed by a gang. But sometimes the police might identify you and your friends as a gang, when all you want to do is hang out. You might be asked to 'move on' and to not hang around together in public spaces. There may also be problems with shop owners and Councils if you hang around in a shopping complex or out the front of a shop. If private businesses complain to the police you will probably be asked to leave. In Australia, if you feel that you have been unfairly treated, you can lodge a complaint at any police station and it will be investigated. There is a lot more on young people and public spaces at Youth Action and Policy Association of NSW.

Check out the topic Youth rights for more on this type of thing.


South Australia


Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth has several papers about gangs


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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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