Gangs and violence

Get the facts

Gangs often make it into the news, but most people don't and will never belong to one. But maybe there's trouble with gangs in your neighbourhood or perhaps you know someone who's involved in a gang. Get facts about gangs and group violence here.

What is a gang?

The word "gang" can mean different things to different people. It could be:

  • a "crew" who breaks the law
  • a criminal organisation in which the law is broken regularly
  • a group of friends hanging around in the street, parks or shopping centres

You might think this last one - of a group of young people "hanging around" on street corners - as a gang. But as long as that group stays within the law, the police wouldn't usually use the word ‘gang’ to describe them.

So what's the official definition?

A gang is usually considered to be a group of people who spend time in public places that

  • see themselves (and are seen by others) as a noticeable group, and
  • engage in a range of criminal activity and violence.
  • They may also have any or all of the following features
    • identify with or lay a claim over territory,
    • are in conflict with other, similar gangs

However, if the majority of offending is of a lower non-violent level then they would be considered a peer group not a gang.

A criminal network (which is different to a gang) is:

A group of individuals involved in persistent criminality for some form of personal gain this includes profit and/or to gain or demonstrate status) which is causing significant harm to the community

  • a group that keeps breaking the law to make money
  • this law-breaking is causing harm to the community
  • or, this law-breaking is a problem internationally (e.g. people trafficking)
  • violence is used in order to make money (e.g. to scare people into giving them money)
  • they are running an illegal business (e.g. drug trafficking)

Why do people belong to gangs?

Here are some of the reasons young people might give for being in a gang:

  • identity
  • a sense of belonging
  • they think it will make them safer
  • they think they will make money

Bonding and group identity are an important part of social life and growing up. But when a bond is based around crime, violence is usually not far away.

Gangs usually have rivals they are fighting and may give the reasons as being about:

  • territory
  • a dispute over a girlfriend or boyfriend
  • an argument where "someone said something about someone"
  • theft
  • drugs
  • disrespect


Retaliation, or payback, is a common reason given for group violence, but:

  • if gangs keep retaliating, the violence will never stop
  • if you are involved, you may never feel safe again

If group violence is a problem in your life, there are people who can help and give you support.