joining a gang

Interpersonal Violence


Interpersonal Violence

A closer look at what it is, how that can look, and how to get help


What is interpersonal violence?

Interpersonal violence occurs when one person uses power and control over another through physical, sexual, or emotional threats or actions, economic control, isolation, or other kinds of coercive behavior. Some different types of interpersonal violence include:

  • Abuse is any behavior toward another person that is physically violent or involves emotional coercion, or both and one person is in a position of authority.

  • Bullying which is a type of harassment that can be verbal, physical, or online. It can also take the form of coercion where someone is threatened by another person and as a result of those threats, the person being bullied feels intimidated and pressured into acting a certain way or doing a certain thing. This is called peer pressure. Bullying can occur in all settings—school, work, home, neighborhood and the internet.

  • Intimate Partner Violence occurs when one intimate or romantic partner tries to maintain power and control over the other through words and actions that are physically and emotionally abusive. Dating violence can take many forms including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual or economic abuse. It occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and can be instigated by either males or females. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced some form of severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.

  • Sexual Violence is any type of sexual activity that a person does not agree to. It can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. This can happen between strangers, acquaintances, coworkers, classmates, “friends”, intimate partners and family. It includes:

    • Inappropriate touching

    • Vaginal, anal, or oral penetration

    • Sexual intercourse that a person says no to

    • Rape or attempted rape

    • Sexual harassment or threats

    • Peeping or Voyeurism (watching private sexual acts)

    • Exhibitionism (exposing themselves in public)

  • Youth Violence refers to aggressive behaviors, including slapping, hitting, kicking, bullying, punching, fist fighting and knife fighting, as well as robbery, rape and homicide.

  • Gang Violence refers to acts of aggression and violence and criminal activity committed by a group of peers where the group usually has an identity (e.g. a name; a sign; a neighborhood). In some neighborhoods, the pressure to join a gang occurs early and can be very difficult to resist. Members often join to feel a sense of family and community, and to achieve power and respect. On the flipside, members may worry about their own safety and fears of being abused by others in the gang. Gang members include all genders.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, call a friend or family member you trust. You also can call a crisis center or a hotline to talk with a trained volunteer. One hotline is the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673.

Feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and shock are normal. It is important to get counseling from a trusted professional. The US Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health Information website provides additional information about what to do if you have been sexually assaulted.

What triggers violence?

There are a number of reasons why a person might become violent. Some of those reasons might be:

  • Anger

  • Frustration

  • Sadness

  • Trying to control another person

  • Having a short temper

A person’s belief system might also influence how the person behaves. Someone who acts aggressively or violently may believe that violence is an acceptable way to deal with anger or an acceptable way to get something that the person wants. The person may also have grown up in a family where violence was part of how family members interacted with each other.

Some ways to stop being violent

Violence is NOT okay and nobody should have to put up with it. Being angry, confused or frustrated are all normal emotions, and there are non-violent ways of expressing these emotions. If you’re having trouble managing your anger, you might want to check out the Anger & Violence and Anger Management articles.

Deciding to do something about your violent behavior is a big step and it takes a lot of courage.

Look at what makes you violent. To stop this behavior, it might be useful to make a list of the things that trigger your violent behavior. This could be a person, a situation, a mood, or drugs and alcohol. By knowing what triggers your violent behavior, you can start to avoid these things or try to work out ways to deal with the situation.

Who is affected by your violent behavior? Does it hurt anyone physically or emotionally? Do you want to have safe and secure relationships, or do you want people to be afraid of you? These questions might help you see how your violent behavior can negatively affect you and the people around you.

Talk to someone. Putting an end to violent behavior is not always easy, and having someone to support you can be helpful. You don’t have to do it by yourself. Going to counseling or visiting another mental health professional might be able to help you find ways to deal with your violent behavior.

Drugs, alcohol and violence

Using drugs and alcohol increases the likelihood that a person might act in a violent way. If you’re finding that you become violent while drinking or taking drugs, you might want to look at ways to better manage your drug and alcohol intake. A counselor or other mental health professional who specializes in addictions counseling can help you do this.


Information for this article was provided by:


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Joining a Gang


Should I join a gang?

A closer look at why people join gangs and how you can respond to the pressure of joining a gang

Why do people join gangs?

Many communities in the United States have gangs in them. And some of these gangs have been around for a long time and over many generations. It isn’t surprising that many people in these communities find themselves (both male and female) having to make a decision about whether or not to join. There isn’t just one reason for why people join gangs and the more reasons one person has to deal with, the harder it will be for them to resist joining a gang. It is important to know that having all these issues in your life DOES NOT mean you are absolutely going to join a gang. In fact, many people who deal with some incredibly hard issues in their life do not join a gang. Knowing what to expect, what the other possibilities are, and deciding how to handle yourself are part of making this decision.

Pressure to join a gang

When gangs are all around you, it may seem normal or expected to join. You might not think so, but ultimately, your choice is based on variety of factors and all are very hard to deal with. Sometimes a person’s environment and the people in it can make it seem normal or natural to join a gang. For example, if you live in an area full of gangs, or there are many gang members living near you or going to school with you, you might think it’s normal to join a gang because it seems to you that everyone else is joining. This normalizes gang activity to those that live in those neighborhoods.

If you live in a neighborhood where there is a lot of poverty and gang activity, you might think there’s no way to get ahead and live a happy life. Perhaps for that reason alone you might consider joining a gang to survive the chaos of the neighborhood, the economic distress, or simply to protect yourself. It might seem strange to those not in these situations, but protection from a certain group of individuals could cause a person to get into a gang because they think the gang can protect them.

You might also think that the gangster life is glamorous. People admire the power that a gang member seems to possess in that particular community and wish to attain the same stature. Gang life might also seem glamorous because of the drugs, money, violence, and respect acquired through fear and intimidation. This attracts many people to pursue a life in gangs, but there is nothing glamorous about gang life and you aren’t really protected either—you are constantly in fear of confrontations with rival gangs or the police. Being in a gang increases your chances of getting arrested, seriously injured or killed. Having drugs around may also increase the chances of you developing a drug problem or getting busted for drug possession or selling.

It is really hard to avoid these temptations, especially when everything around you seems to point to the gang life. Some alternatives to joining a gang might be:

  • Joining a sports team or group. Find friends and connections through mutual interests. The people you put yourself around will influence your decisions, so try to surround yourself with people that are going to support you and push you to always be better. It can also feel good to be a part of something bigger than yourself, like through volunteering, joining a play, or starting a band.

  • Focusing on school. If you’re getting good grades, this could help you get scholarships and grants to put towards a technical school or college after high school. This can help you fast-track your career.

  • Journal. Try spending some time writing down your thoughts and feelings about your situation. What are all your options and what is the best one? Weight out the pros and cons. This might help you find alternatives and solutions to joining a gang.

  • Tap into your creative side. Learning to play an instrument, dancing, painting and other forms of art can help you express yourself or distract you from what you’re feeling in a healthy way.

  • Get a part time job. This can help you feel like you’re moving towards your goals in a positive way.

Many communities have community based organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and even some of the local colleges and universities have programs for young people in the community. Talk to your school counselor or favorite teacher too. They might have ideas for you.

The gang life isn’t glamorous and can’t offer you real protection when you think of what could happen to you—going to jail, living in constant fear for your life, or actually dying.

When most people around me are in gangs, why shouldn’t I join, too?

Sometimes the people closest to you can be a huge influence on making a decision to join a gang. Having parents or other family members involved in gangs only intensifies the likelihood of joining a gang. If it’s not having family members that cause someone to join gangs, a friend or friends in a gang may be a really strong motivator to join a gang. If your friends are gang members or associated with a gang, they can be an influence to join. Peer pressure and peer acceptance are some of the main reasons why people get involved in gangs. These things are hard to deal with especially when you feel like you don’t want to be left out of what your friends or family members are doing.

An environment with gangs, violence, and poverty can make a person grow up too fast. Sometimes if you don’t have family support or role models to look up to, you go looking for it elsewhere. Not feeling loved or supported can lead to anger and anger can lead to acting out. Check out the Anger and Violence article for more information about how to deal with your anger.

Many think they’ll find what they are looking for in a gang. Unfortunately, chances are that if you have family and friends in a gang, these same family members or friends have been arrested, put in jail, shot, or even killed. Do you want that kind of life? Do you want to run the risk of being killed? Seriously think it through. Our Risk-Taking article may help you in your decision making process. Sometimes finding a trusted adult to talk to, like a teacher or guidance counselor, can help you deal with the pressure or offer suggestions for how to resist joining a gang.

Having no hope for the future

Sometimes we have a tendency to focus on the positive or fun aspects of joining a gang, like hanging out with friends and gaining prestige. It’s important not to forget the negative impact it could have on your life, though. You might think without joining a gang, there’s not real hope for your future. Maybe asking yourself, “Why care about the negative things that can happen to me?”

The bigger issue underneath this attitude is one that is much harder to tackle. When there is no hope for the future, a person feels that it is easier to go on a destructive path without care or worry of who gets caught up along the way. The truth is that joining a gang is a decision that only a person with no hope for the future can make. If you had hope for a future—a good college education; a good job or career; a family—you wouldn’t choose a life of fear of being hurt or jailed. Would you?

Sometimes finding hope comes in the simplest ways, regardless of your neighborhood or environment:

  • Getting an A on an exam or even a C in a really hard subject

  • Making the football team

  • Getting a part time job

  • Going to a restaurant outside of your neighborhood

Just like there are many factors (sometimes working all together) that lead to people joining gangs. There is not one way, but many ways to keep from joining. Question your options. Talk to someone. The decision to adopt a gang lifestyle is one that has the potential for negative and devastating things to happen—where people die, get hurt, or go to jail. More potential for worse off circumstances than another other lifestyle decision you could make.


Information for this article was provided by:

  • Thornberry, Krohn, Lizotte, Smith & Tobin’s “Gangs and Delinquency in Development Perspective” (Cambridge Press, 2003).

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for