Uncovering the Pathways Between Gang Membership and Violent Victimization
Gang members are more likely to be victimized violently than non-gang youth, but the extent to which this relationship is confounded, direct, or mediated remains unclear. This study responds to recent calls by scholars for more methodologically sound research in this area with the goal of uncovering the pathways between gang membership and violent victimization.
Using a school-based longitudinal sample of adolescents, the current study uses Preacher and Hayes multiple mediator structural equation modeling and counterfactual methodology to test whether and which theoretical pathways—self-control, cultural orientations, routine activity, and lifestyle theory—mediate the contemporaneous and prospective effects of gang membership on violent victimization.
The results indicate that 27 % of the contemporaneous effects of gang membership on victimization is attributable to selection, with the remaining 73 % endogenous to gang membership, supporting Thornberry et al.’s (J Res Crime Delinquency 30:55–87, 1993) enhancement model. Entry into a gang increases risk taking, temper, self-centeredness, negative peer commitment, neutralization of violence, aggressive conflict resolution, unstructured socializing, and delinquency, and decreases empathy and positive peer commitment. The contemporaneous gang membership-victimization link was fully mediated, due almost entirely to delinquency. Prospective models reveal a gang membership-victimization link that is fully confounded by selection, although attrition and desistance from gangs may be responsible for this finding.
The existing risky attitudes and behaviors of youth who select into gangs matters a great deal for understanding the gang membership-victimization link, but these very risks are exacerbated upon entry into a gang. Our mediation findings suggest that interventions targeting highly delinquent gang members should pay dual dividends of reducing delinquency and victimization.