DISCUSSIONS: Craig Pinkney and Joan Campbell, centre, with their team who highlighted the issues surrounding girls and social media
THERE IS nothing new about street gangs and youth violence, however the often overlooked issue of how girls become involved was put in the spotlight during a unique gang awareness training event in Birmingham.
Two of the city’s leading practitioners in this field – former probation officer Joan Campbell, now director of Community Vision community interest company (CIC) and urban youth specialist and criminologist Craig Pinkney, joined forces to lead a thought-provoking session into a world many parents know little about.
Intervention and engagement on this topic is predominantly male-dominated, failing to address the growing reality of more young women being at risk through social media where peer pressure can lead to sexual exploitation, domestic violence and mental health problems.
The day-long Girls, Gangs and Social Media event at Brookfield Life Development Centre in Hockley was attended by more than 40 people, but another 5,000 watched it being live-streamed on Facebook.
Campbell told The Voice:
“There is a growing concern about the lack of understanding on how vulnerable girls, perhaps those with low confidence or self-esteem, are being groomed on social media.
“This addiction to the camera and reality TV is worrying – everyone now wants a look inside the life of somebody else, so the media promotes this instant ‘look at me’ mentality and some young men are exploiting that.
“Young women are sending out inappropriate pictures of themselves doing things they wouldn’t normally do to fit in with their peers.”
She highlighted the alarming development of ‘county lines’ which are urban criminal gangs who target the most vulnerable young people and take them outside of their own area to host crack houses for up to three or four days at a time. Addicted people within that community come in and buy drugs from them.
“This was a real eye opener,” added Campbell.
“Craig was saying that sometimes he hears from parents who say their son or daughter has been absent from home for a couple of days. When they return they say they have been with this friend or that, but often this isn’t the case.
“In a nutshell, the purpose of today is to emphasise the importance of having conversations with our young people and what may put them at risk on social media. Find out who their friends and associates are.
“The other vital thing is the importance of my generation understanding social media. We can be quite intimidated by certain aspects of it, but we need to navigate our way round it and know the sort of sites young people are going on, the music channels they are listening to.
“We need to know that there’s a negative message being sent out by social media, but there’s also a positive one – like today where more than 5,000 people watched us on Facebook. I even had a wonderful woman who had been watching it and came from her sickbed on two sticks to give me a bouquet of flowers because she appreciated what we were trying to do. I thought that was lovely and it showed we were on the right track.”
Pinkney, who is now collaborating with Campbell on her work, told The Voice:
“Social media for me has become the biggest drug for our young people. This obsession with the camera whether it's Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook – my role is to talk abut the danger of all this. How easily young people can become radicalised, how easily they can become exploited.
“There are lot of issues in our community where young people who are vulnerable are being used to sit in crack houses to serve organised criminals. A lot of parents have spoken to me about issues where their children have disappeared for one or two days, then finding money in their bedrooms, noticing they’re always tired.
“These are major safeguarding issues that the Home Office has been talking about. Parents need to be more aware and stop being so fearful and ignorant about the issues that can be caused by social media. It can bring so many positives but there are also dangers from exploitation and criminal minds.”
Pinkney, a lecturer at University College Birmingham and director of Real ActionUK, a charitable outreach organisation, spoke about the importance for him now to pass on his work to others in order to replicate what he is doing to spread that message.
He added that he believed Birmingham was ‘light years ahead’ of many other cities both in the UK and Europe in terms of dealing with gang issues and gun crime.
“As a community our response is a lot stronger, more co-ordinated and more united than many other cities,” he said.
During the event Campbell’s daughters Simone and Tonia performed a drama monologue which looked at the impact of social media on young girls – the sort of thought processes they go through when they start to engage inappropriately. It highlighted both the positive and negative ‘chatterbox’ sides of social media, along with issues of self confidence and self-esteem.
Clancy Williams, a clinical drama therapist, who runs her own company Angels Without Wings, led an exercise on the importance of connecting with others that young people wouldn’t normally talk to in a bid to bring some of these concerns out into the open.
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