The Relationship Between Male Partner Gang Involvement and Risk Behaviors Among Their Non-Gang Involved Female Partners
Over 24,500 youth gangs exist in the United States (U.S.), resulting in more than 772,500 gang involved adolescents and young adults, with one in four members between the ages of 15-17. Previous research has established positive relationships between gang membership and risky sexual behaviors, such as multiple concurrent sexual partnerships, having sex while high on drugs, and having sex with a partner who was high on drugs for both males and females. For adolescent females, gang membership has also been associated with a higher incidence of Trichomonas and Gohorrhea, and reporting an unplanned pregnancy. Despite the reality that gang involved youth bear a high STI/HIV burden, no studies have examined how such risk may translate to the non-gang involved female sexual partners of gang affiliated men. Therefore the primary aim of this study was to examine the relationship between male primary partner gang involvement and risk behaviors among their non-gang involved female partners.
Data were collected from a convenience sample of detained African American adolescents females, between the ages of 13-17, currently incarcerated in a short-term detention facility in Atlanta, Georgia (N=188). After obtaining written informed assent and parental permission, participants answered survey questions using A-CASI procedures that assessed age, socioeconomic status, parental communication, parental monitoring, and risk factors such as their boyfriend having sex with another female, no condom use last sex, and history of emotional and physical abuse.
Multiple regression models, controlling for age, parental monitoring and parental communication, documented that females who reported never having been involved in a gang, but who had a boyfriend who was/is a gang member, were significantly more likely to report that their current boyfriend had sex with another woman during the course of their relationship (p=.01), were significantly less likely to report using a condom with their current boyfriend during last sex (p=.045), held more accepting attitudes towards infidelity (p=.017) and were significantly more likely to report a history of emotional (p=.001) and physical (p=.017) abuse.
Conclusions and Implications:
Prior studies have examined the sexual and social risk behaviors of gang involved youth. However, this is the first quantitative study to examine whether non-gang involved female partners of male gang members also report higher sexual and social risk factors.
Our findings empirically document that male partner characteristics are associated with the sexual and social risk factors of their female partners. The extant literature is replete with studies that examine the behavioral risk factors of females without adequate attention to the characteristics of their male partners, which represents a significant contribution. Our findings suggest that social work practitioners and service providers might target adolescent girls who are partnered with former or current gang members for important public health prevention and intervention initiatives.