Gang violence has a major impact on the social health of local communities. Both gang members and surrounding community members are at risk for the problems created by gang violence. Gang involvement with drug trafficking increases violence. Social health problems related to gang violence include drug dependency, injury, disability, death and sexual and physical abuse.
Much of the violence that occurs within and between gangs has to do with issues related to drug dealing and trafficking. Gangs that deal drugs put members in high-risk situations. For instance, they may be forced to deal drugs on street corners where they are susceptible to violence from rival gangs or other drug dealers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's 2009 report, individuals who are involved in gangs are at higher risk for drug use and drug trafficking, which increases the likelihood of carrying a gun and being involved in violence in general.
Youth living in low-income areas are often particularly susceptible to joining gangs. In these areas, young people are frequently looking for an escape from the poverty and isolation of their communities. For these youngsters, gangs provide a sense of belonging and even income, particularly for those gangs that deal drugs. Young people in gangs may be particularly prone to violence. Gang members and leaders often put the younger members in the forefront when committing crimes, since legal penalties for younger offenders are often lighter than for adults.
Gang violence has a particularly negative impact on low-income areas and local neighbourhoods. Injuries and physical trauma are the obvious effects of violence for those involved. However, there are psychological effects as well. Young people who are exposed to frequent gang-related violence may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. This disorder is marked by disorganised behaviour, anxiety, nightmares and paranoia. Young people with PTSD may experience depression, anger, distrust, alienation and fearfulness. They often increase risk-taking behaviours, putting a strain on their family members, who often do not understand the cause of these symptoms or know where to seek treatment and help.
Young people who become involved in gangs often use the gang as their sole source of social connection and support. These young people often separate themselves from former friends and family in favour of the gang. By being affiliated with the gang, the young person puts those around her at greater risk of violence. The youth is no longer influenced by her family's values and influence, but adapts the values of the gang, who encourage activities such as destruction of property, selling drugs, robbery, extortion and other illegal acts that often lead to violence. Youth are also more likely to carry guns and participate in blatant acts of violence.
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- All Academic Research: A Public Health Study of Gang Youth in Los Angeles: Preliminary Analysis; Sanders, Bill, Lankenau, Stephen and Jackson-Bloom, Jennifer; 2008
- U.S. Department of Justice: Youth Gangs and Violence; 1998
- The New York Times: Blocking the Transmission of Violence; Ale Kotlowitz; 2008
- Wright House: Gang Violence; Amy D. Tsou; 1997
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Youth from Low-Income Families; Adam Kent; 2009
- Traumatic Stress Treatment Center: The Effects of Community Violence on Children and Adolescents: Carole Goguen, Psy.D.