Police: Girls are not victims, but join gangs willingly
Officers say women will join for shallow reasons such as purses, jewelry
VANCOUVER — As gang unit officers for the Vancouver police, detectives Sandy Avelar and Anisha Parhar often pull over boys and men in flashy cars with drugs and guns in the glove compartment. But they also meet girls and women in the passenger’s seat, toting designer purses and expensive jewelry.
The detectives have noticed that often these females are assumed to be naive bystanders or helpless victims. While that may be true in some cases, Avelar and Parhar are pushing for recognition that many of these girls and women are more deeply involved.
“We don’t sit there and say: ‘Every girl’s a victim. Poor girl. She’s going to get targeted. These are the big, bad boyfriends coming in with the tattoos,’” Parhar says.
“That’s one facet of it, but I think something important is there are lot of girls that knowingly get involved. They want the money. They want the image. They want all that.”
Gang membership in other jurisdictions is typically driven by poverty and need, but Avelar notes that feelings of need may be relative. In the Lower Mainland, where multimillion-dollar homes and Lamborghinis abound, young girls and women scrolling through Instagram may feel they “need” luxury goods, she says.
The main reasons why girls get involved with gangs include the financial lure, a desire for belonging or recognition, glamour, status and protection, Parhar adds.
While females sometimes mistakenly believe they’re safe from gunfire, they have been killed over the years. Seventeen females have been killed in gang-related violence between 2006 and 2017, according to an analysis by B.C.’s anti-gang agency, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit. Today, prevention programs are targeting girls and women to keep them out of gangs.
Avelar and Parhar launched a program in 2017 to help discourage girls from gang life called Her Time. The program, which is not an official Vancouver police initiative but is supported by the department, educates young women on the dangers of dating criminals and aims to shed the false allure of the lifestyle.
The detectives deliver their presentation in schools, community centres and anywhere else it’s requested. They’ve also teamed up with women who have managed to escape gang life to share their stories.
One woman, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons, says she had a “fantastic” life growing up and never got into trouble. But when she was 20, she befriended a woman who introduced her to work as an exotic dancer.
She met her boyfriend — now her ex — at the strip club. He was a “great guy” in the beginning, she says, but the club attracted shady characters, and soon he was lured by the glamour and status attached to the gang lifestyle. His drug dealing allowed her to quit dancing and live a life of luxury, she recalls.
“I was able to shop seven days a week if I wanted to. I barely wore the same thing twice. We had a beautiful apartment in a very high end neighbourhood of Vancouver,” the woman says.
“The fact that someone wanted to take care of me in every which way made me think he was the one . ... Women do stupid things when they are young and in love. I am a prime example of that.”
When he asked her to join him on a trip across the border, she happily went along, looking forward to shopping in the United States.
Border authorities searched the car of the man her boyfriend was supposed to meet and found drugs. The discovery led them to the car where she and her boyfriend were waiting, and both were arrested. She pleaded guilty to knowledge of a crime and failing to report it and served eight months in prison. Women with a misplaced need may get involved in gangs, thinking they are safe. But 17 have been killed in B.C., in recent years. Above, Detective Anisha Parhar, left, and Sgt. Sandy Avelar.