Dr. Carlene Firmin MBE joined us this week to share her wealth of research on and practical experience with gangs, exploitation and violence amongst young people.
Carlene is Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre, researching Child Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking and was awarded her MBE for service to women and girls.
Does the language we use to describe children make a difference?
Carlene believes language use makes a big difference. If we use words such as ‘manipulative’, ‘promiscuous’ or ‘street-wise’, it focusses our attention on what we need to do to ‘fix them’ rather than thinking about why they might be behaving the way they are. We end up sounding like we are blaming them for how they are behaving. This is generally unconscious on the part of the adults and we live in a society which tends to focus on the people who are exhibiting a behaviour rather than the behaviour itself.
How can we avoid this use of language?
Professionals need to be confident to challenge and to question. They must try not to condone and accept – even through silence. So we need to be aware of the phrases we use.
For example, saying, ‘They won’t engage with us’, places the onus on the young people whereas saying, ‘We haven’t been able to engage with them’, encourages us to problem solve.
Carlene is also involved in MsUnderstood which is a partnership between the University of Bedfordshire, Imkaan, and the Girls Against Gangs Project. It aims to improve local and national responses to young people’s experiences of inequality.
There has been work in projects across England to develop approaches to help those who are experiencing harm by concentrating on the environments where the harm occurs. They have developed a suite of practical resources which are being published in September 2016.
How are women affected by gang violence?
After a huge amount of research and work, Carlene has come to the understanding that it depends how the young woman is connected to gang violence and what that association means to her. They could be involved in gang violence themselves, have fiends, relatives or partners in a gang, or multiples of these. So her experience and what it means to her could be very different from someone else. This means that girls’ connections to gangs and violence may be stonger or weaker and so they can find it more or less easy to remove themselves from the situation.
Practical results of Carlene’s work
As a result of the research programmes…
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