Gangs and street violence

The police define a gang as a group of people who are involved in organised crime activity.

This content has been written for children and young people. If you’re looking for information for over 18s, visit our Types of Crime information about violent crime.

A group of mates who live in the same area as each other, or all go to the same school, and who hang around together is not a gang and the police wouldn’t see them as such as long as they were behaving in line with the law.

Graffiti on the wall.

The police define gangs as a group of people who may commit crimes or hurt people. They might carry knives or other weapons and use them either to show off or to threaten people. They might try to get you involved with them and what they do – or threaten to hurt you if you don’t join them, or if you belong to another gang.

Gangs are often involved in various types of street crime, and being a victim of gang crime can happen to anyone. It could happen just to you, to other gangs or groups, or to whole communities. It often takes place in public areas such as on the street, in parks and shopping centres, and you may know the person or people committing the crime, or you may not.

There are many ways gang and street violence can be carried out:

  • Antisocial behaviour (ASB): when other people’s actions make you feel harassed, scared or unhappy.
  • Stalking and harassment: when someone repeatedly follows you, watches you or spies on you.
  • Intimidation through threats.
  • Assault: when someone physically hurts you or threatens to physically hurt you.
  • Hate crime: where people can be abusive to you or target you because of your identity, such as your race, religion, culture, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
  • Theft: when your personal items are taken from you, including robbery.

It’s important to remember that, although it may be hard sometimes, you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do. And no one has the right to force you into doing things that make you uncomfortable, or put you in danger.

It can be really difficult for children and young people to avoid being recruited or affected by gang activity, especially if it’s in your neighbourhood. Being in a gang isn’t a crime in itself, but it can put you at much greater risk of becoming a victim of crime, or an offender.

If your group of friends starts to get involved with gang activity, or any other activities you’re uncomfortable with, think seriously about getting out. It’s hard to leave behind the people you know, but there are lots of other people out there for you to make friends with, and lots of other activities you can get involved with that could be a lot safer. The most important thing is to keep yourself safe.

If you’re worried because someone is trying to make you join a gang or become involved in activities that you’re not comfortable with, you need to talk to an adult you can trust – such as a parent or family member, teacher, youth worker or support worker – about what’s happening and how you feel about it. They will be able to help you.

You might feel that if you join a gang you’ll be looked after and protected, but often this is not true. Sometimes being in a gang makes you a target for people and you might find yourself in danger, particularly from other gangs.

Children and young people may also think that being in a gang will give them a glamorous lifestyle, but the reality is very different. As well as putting you at greater risk of being a victim of violence, being in a gang can also put you at greater risk of committing crime, dealing or taking drugs, and ending up in prison.

It can be extremely frightening to be the victim of a gang. As well as possibly being hurt or injured physically, you can be very seriously affected emotionally. Many people find it hard to deal with the feeling of being powerless when someone is threatening them. Other common feelings include finding it hard to believe what has happened, feeling like your life is completely out of control, feeling angry towards those hurting you, and having physical symptoms such as ‘the shakes’, sleeplessness or crying all the time.

These reactions and many more are completely normal responses to being a victim of gang threats or violence. The important thing to remember is that it’s not your fault – you haven’t done anything wrong, and no one has the right to hurt or threaten you.

It can be even more frightening or worrying if you feel like you are trying to cope with what has happened on your own. Many young people find that it helps if they can talk to someone, and some things you can do are:

  • Tell an adult you trust. This could be a teacher, a family member, your youth worker or support worker. Tell them what’s happened, and ask for their help and advice.
  • Think about reporting it to the police. If you think you are at immediate risk of getting hurt, call 999.
  • If you’re worried or feel unsafe because of what’s happened, talk to your trusted adult about developing a safety plan that would help you choose how best to keep yourself safe in the future.
  • Write down what has happened soon after the event including times and dates.

If you are worried about a friend, we have some tips on how you can start the conversation and get them the right help

Victim Support’s Children and Young People Services – you can contact your nearest Victim Support office, call the 24/7 Supportline, contact us via live chat, or if you are 16 or older, you can create a My Support Space account. This is a free, safe and secure online space where you can work through interactive guides to help you move forward after crime.

Childline – 24-hour support for young people, both on the phone and through online chats and message boards, on crime, safety and a range of other issues: 0800 1111.

The Mix – information and support for under 25s on a whole range of issues. Get confidential help by email, text, webchat or phone: 0808 808 4994.

Crimestoppers – if you want to provide information about a crime without talking to the police, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Gangsline – for free advice and support from ex-gang members: 01375 483 239 or 07753 351 256.