Po­lice: Girls are not vic­tims, but join gangs will­ingly

Of­fi­cers say women will join for shal­low rea­sons such as purses, jewelry

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - LAURA KANE AND AMY SMART

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.

DAR­RYL DYCK THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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