An Exploratory Study of Gang-Affiliated Young Men's Perceptions and Experiences of Sexuality and Gender Relations

By Fleury, Evelyne; Fernet, Mylene | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Spring-Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

An Exploratory Study of Gang-Affiliated Young Men's Perceptions and Experiences of Sexuality and Gender Relations


Fleury, Evelyne, Fernet, Mylene, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


Abstract: The literature on gangs frequently associates them with gender inequality and violence against women. Some recent studies that have addressed the sexual practices of gang-affiliated young men have painted a portrait of their romantic and sexual experiences that is incomplete because violence and similar issues are emphasized to the detriment of overall affective and sexual experience. The perspectives of such young men is largely absent. The present study used a qualitative analysis of interviews with gang-affiliated young men to explore their perceptions and experiences of gang life in terms of sexual exploitation, violence towards young women, gender relations, and romantic and sexual relationships. Our goal was to uncover the underlying affective, sexuality-related, and identity-related aspects of their relationships with women. Our findings revealed some paradoxical differences between their self-reported experiences and their identified perceptions and aspirations for a better life.

Introduction

Few studies have adequately investigated the etiology of sexism, sexual exploitation, or aggression in gangs. The available data come from studies on young women who associate with gangs (Chesney-Lind, Shelden, & Joe, 1996; Dorais & Corriveau, 2006; Fournier, Cousineau, & Hamel, 2004) or studies that do not specifically address gang-related sexuality (Danyko, Arlia, & Martinez, 2002; Decker & Van Winkle, 1996; Hamel, Fredette, Blais, Bertot, & Cousineau, 1998; Perreault & Bibeau, 2003; Sanders, 1994). To our knowledge, Totten (2000) is the only author who has considered the viewpoint of gang-affiliated young men on violence in romantic relationships. Most studies depict a fragmented portrait of the sexual and romantic experiences of gang-affiliated young men where violence is at the forefront to the detriment of a broader overall picture of their experience. The literature reviewed below contextualizes the perceptions and experiences of gang-affiliated young men in regard to their sexuality and gender relations.

Background

Many studies have described the backgrounds and social environments (suburbs, family, school) experienced by gang-affiliated youth (Covey, Menard, & Franzese, 1992; Goldstein, 1991; Hamel, Fredette, Blais, Bertot, & Cousineau, 1998; Maxson, Whitlock, & Klein, 1998; Wood, Furlong, Scozzari, & Sosna, 1997). Collectively, such studies can help us to understand the processes of gang affiliation and disaffiliation experienced by young men.

It should be noted that there is no established consensus on the definition of gangs, gang members, or gang activities. Therefore, it is difficult to assess the extent of criminal gang activity and related issues such as delinquency, violence, and sexual exploitation. Moreover, gang members have different images and develop different types of relationships within the various groups to which they belong. Hebert, Hamel, and Savoie (1997) defined the term "gang" as "a community of persons (adolescents, young adults or adults) who share a common identity, who regularly interact in small or large groups, and take part in criminal and/or violent activities" (p. 41).

Family environment and violence against women

The family environment predictors of gang affiliation are complex and cannot be easily generalized. In many cases, deunification (e.g., immigration, separation, foster family) and parents' personal problems (e.g., alcoholism, mental health) have deprived many gang-affiliated young men of their parents' presence (Danyko et al., 2002; Hamel et al., 1998; Maxson, Whitlock & Klein, 1998; Patton, 1998). Many gang-affiliated young men come from single-parent families and have been brought up by women (Danyko et al., 2002; Hamel et al., 1998; Patton, 1998). Although they may speak about their mothers with respect, this respect does not extend to other women (Patton, 1998). …

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