Teenage girls are being raped by several boys as part of their boyfriends’ gang initiations, youth workers have reported as they raised concerns about education on consent.

One practitioner described being shown footage of a young girl who was coerced into performing oral sex on nine gang members.

“Her boyfriend was off-camera and you could hear him encouraging her, saying: ‘Go on babe, you can do this.’ It was a rite of passage for him and she did what she was told,” the youth worker said.

“The gang members – all teenage boys – were goading her, laughing and making misogynistic remarks. There are lots of videos like this circulating online.”

The youth worker, who works in east London and asked not to be identified, said: “Sexual violence is often used as retribution against their gang member’s partner or they are forced to perform these acts if their boyfriend wants to be one of the top dons.

“When I speak to girls linked to gangs they’ll often say, “This guy from a rival gang came and boxed (punched) me in my mouth and beat up my sister…he did it because my mum found and destroyed his stuff’. This could be drugs, weapons or stolen goods,” they said, adding: “I don’t think we’re aware of how our girls exist in these systems – and it’s often around sex.”

Donna Murray-Turner, director of Another Night of Sisterhood (ANOS), a grassroots organization offering services to support families and young people in Croydon, south London, said the issue of consent is a “huge issue” — but it should “not be the responsibility of girls and young women”.

Ms. Murray-Turner explained: “Some women don’t have autonomy over our bodies – even in their own relationships. Older women are having conversations online and saying, ‘I’ve realized I’ve been raped throughout my marriage because I’ve never told my husband when I don’t want it.’ In terms of how we view sex, that’s deep. This is how it manifests if people don’t understand consent and their right to say ‘No’.

“We need to tell our boys: “If you’re having sex and she says she doesn’t want it – stop. Unless we’re having these conversations, we’ll see the worst sexual violence.”

Statistics relating to gang-associated girls and women are scant and existing figures do not encompass all four nations. Three years ago the Children’s Commissioner for England suggested 2,290 girls were linked with gangs – 34 per cent of all gang-associated children. Meanwhile, females accounted for just four (0.2 per cent) of the 1,906 individuals on the Metropolitan Police’s Gang Violence Matrix, according to quarterly data published in March [2022].

Ms. Murray-Turner, whose organization receives no government funding for its work with predominantly black, Asian and minority ethnic women and girls, said: “We need more consent workshops for all young people because we’re not having nuanced conversations about it – and it’s how we teach emotional intelligence.

“ANOS has run sessions in the past and it was clear that girls did not know about consent. Young women turned to us in disbelief and said: ‘What? You mean I can tell him I don’t want to have sex?’ They don’t understand that forced oral sex is rape. I would say this is on the rise. We would love to run more workshops but the funding is never enough for small, community-based groups like ours.”

The Home Office said tackling violence against women and girls is a “top priority” and explained how its Young Women and Girls Fund (YWGF) aims to improve services for those experiencing gang-related harm and exploitation. Officials will award £2.7m over three years to local authorities in 20 police force areas that account for 80 per cent of serious violence in England and Wales.

A spokesperson said: “The Government recognises that the ways in which women and girls experience gang related harm can be different from that of men and boys, and can often include sexual exploitation. The YWGF, due to begin delivery in a range of local authority areas this year [2022], will provide direct support to young women and girls affected by gang exploitation and harm.”

‘We can’t expect teenage girls to be strong women if they grow up feeling undervalued and disrespected’

When Britain emerged from the first national lockdown in summer 2020, youth workers noticed gang-associated girls attended hospital accident and emergency departments with knife and gunshot injuries, abdominal pain or PV bleeds (vaginal bleeding).

“We believe it pointed to teenage girls being involved in roles usually carried out by men who are often on the frontline of serious violence. Young women are often exploited to carry drugs and weapons because they’re less likely to be stopped and searched by police,” said a south London-based youth worker.

Now, a year after all Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in England, assault presentations among young girls “remain high” while mental health presentations are increasing, according to Redthread, a youth work charity which has staff working in 12 hospitals across London and the Midlands.

Brian Willmore, director of services at Redthread, said: “The increase and severity in mental health presentations has noticeably increased through and post lockdown and it’s very concerning.”

Two thirds (67 per cent) of assaults are likely to be non-weapons based but practitioners recorded referrals for assaults with other bladed or sharp objects such as bottles and paper cutters. Staff said one young woman was referred with a gunshot injury.

Under half (48 per cent) of assaults referrals, with and without a weapon, were for young girls aged 11-14. The charity said 360 young women presented at A&E between January and April this year [2022] – up from 327 (+10 per cent) in the same period last year.

Mr. Willmore said poverty, being unable to access services owing to funding cuts, feeling isolated at home and in school are “always contributing factors” in cases dealt with by Redthread youth workers, adding: “We’ve still got some way to go in understanding the full story of what life is like for young people.”

When asked what more can be done to help girls and young women harness their agency, he said: “It’s about opportunity, access and self-worth but if young girls feel it’s not attainable or they live in a household or community where they don’t feel valued or respected, thinking they can be a strong independent woman is quite a reach when they’re confronted with these issues.”

Original Article