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Marcus Frank

The rise of all-female Asian street gangs consisting of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao females began in the late 1980’s and created shock waves in their respective communities. These girls grew up in cultures that taught females to be subservient within a rigid family structure. To have these girls break away from the family and assert themselves as independent gang members caused many in the Southeast Asian communities to question what America had taught their children.

In order to examine the emergence of the all-female Southeast Asian gangs, one must look at the conditions and circumstances these girls grew up in. Many of the girls came from traditional Southeast Asian households with cultural backgrounds and ideas far different than those of their American counterparts. Traditionally in the Southeast Asian cultures, a female daughter is considered to be “proper” or from a “good family” if she obeys her parents without question and is generally subservient to the male members of her society. The role of the female is seen as one of support for the household as a child and support of her husband as a wife. A philosophy that many of the traditional Southeast Asian cultures ascribe to is that a female is expected to obey her father as a child, her husband as a wife, and her oldest son as a widow. Such ideas do not leave a lot of room for independent thought on the part of the girl.

As the Southeast Asian refugees settled and established communities in the United States, great efforts were taken to maintain a “traditional” household at home. Daughters were expected to attend school and to do well in their studies. After school when the girls returned home, parents often required that they assist in the upkeep of the household by cleaning, cooking or watching younger brothers and sisters. In the evening the girls were expected to do additional study for school. On the weekends, the daughters continued with upkeep of the household, or were expected to take part in activities involving the whole family. There was no time for dating, meeting boys, attending patties or any of the other activities often associated with American girls in their teens. In fact in many of the more traditional homes, the daughter was expected to not even consider going out with a boy until she had graduated from school with high marks. However even with high marks in schooling, it was understood that the female would not seek a career. She would obtain a job long enough to support herself and contribute to her family’s household until the day came that she got married. Then she was expected to step back and maintain the household for her husband. It was the role of the male to be the breadwinner and decision maker in the house. The girl’s role was to have children and keep up the house.

When it came to the courtship process involving boys, many of the girls from the traditional homes found themselves equally burdened by cultural ideas and methods. A girl was expected to first introduce any boy she was considering dating to her family so a determination could be made if a possible future marriage would be of value to the family. Whether the girl liked or loved the boy was of little concern. Of importance was if the boy came from an acceptable family and whether a future union would bring benefit to the girl’s family. Even if the girl felt she loved the boy, should her parents feel the marriage would not benefit the family, the girl was expected to break it off and find a more suitable match.

Oftentimes in the cultures of Southeast Asia, it was this search for a suitable marriage to benefit the family that led to the “arranged marriage” concept. In this “marriage” the families of two children arrange for them to be married because of the benefits to the respective families. This arrangement may occur long before the children are old enough to marry or are able to give an informed consent. When the daughter reaches a certain age, she is informed that a marriage has already been arranged for her and she would be expected to accept it for the good of the family. The girl was often told she would grow to love her husband as time went on.

Even though the Southeast Asian refugees have settled in North America and have become assimilated into western society, one still encounters examples of cultural aspects such as the arranged marriage. Several investigations by law enforcement agencies into female runaway cases involving Asian girls have revealed that the reason the female juvenile left home was because of being “engaged” in an arranged marriage to someone she had never met.

This was the type of background that many of the Southeast Asian female juveniles had to deal with. But attending American school and being exposed to the freedoms that many of the American youths had caused a tremendous culture clash for many of the Asian girls. They found it difficult to experience the freedom of Western youths at school and then return home to face the cultural restrictions of their families. For many of these girls the conflict became too great. They chose to follow the Western style freedom by leaving home and becoming runaways. It is from this core of original runaways that the basis for the Asian female gangs started.

The Asian females who became runaways quickly discovered a support system already in place in the form of the male street gangs. The girls found they could “hang out” with the males who would provide them with shelter, food and other types of support. If the girl was of the same ethnic origin as the males in the gang, she was often treated as a “little sister” (and referred to as such). The males would not touch nor molest her unless she gave consent. This gave the runaway girls a fairly safe environment to stay in and the girls would stay with the male gangs as they moved from crash pad to crash pad. Often times the girl came to regard the gang as a form of surrogate family. The males gave her protection and shelter with few limitations on her freedom.

However, even in the gang structure the girls started to experience cultural restrictions. Many of the male gang members continued the traditional cultural beliefs that the role of the female was one of support. While running with the male gangs, the girls were often asked to perform duties such as preparing food, maintaining the crash pad or acting in a support role in criminal activity. In this support role for criminal activity, the girls would be used as “bait” to gain entry for a residential robbery. Or they might act as lookouts or drive a getaway car. But the males would not allow the females to actually hold a gun on a victim to commit a robbery. That act was seen as a “male” role. The girls might be found riding as passengers in a stolen car, but the males would not allow them to use lock-picks or master keys to actually steal a car. That actual act of theft was again seen as a “male’s” domain. While a girl might be found hiding a gun in her purse or in her clothing, the actual act of shooting the weapon at someone was again reserved for the males.

Over a period of time, some of the Asian girls running with the male gangs got frustrated with the support role they were constantly having to play. Some of them desired the excitement or power of actually committing the criminal acts yet were stymied by the attitudes of the male gang members. As their frustrations grew, these girls found an outlet for their aggressions by going after girls associating with other male gangs.

What would usually occur is that male gang members of a certain gang would congregate at a local coffee shop, pool hall, video arcade or “hangout” after committing a crime. They would bring the females who were staying with the gang along as company. Once at the location, the male gang members would often meet other gang members already there. These other gang members would also bring along their female associates. The males would usually group together to talk about the latest crime or to plan a new one. The females on both sides were often directed off toward the sidelines as the discussions were seen as something for only the males. The females were deemed to have no business hearing what was said. Some of the girls who resented being pushed off in such a manner, or who were frustrated in the first place by not being allowed in on the actual crime, took it out of the female associates of the other gang members at the location. This usually started out with insulting looks or comments and ended up in fist fights between the girls. The male gang members on both sides usually felt this was a “girl thing” and saw no need to get involved. Many of the males considered problems between the girls as beneath them, and did not want to lower themselves in the eyes of other males by backing a female. The girls quickly learned that the males would not back them in fights with other females and as a result they turned to other female acquaintances for help. In a very short time, these girls began to associate on a continuos basis.

By the late 1980’s, several female dominant personality figures stepped forward as informal leaders of these groups of girls. The girls began to associate less and less with their respective male gangs. Eventually, several of the groups adopted gang names and gang styles in the same manner as the males. In an effort to totally break with the male gangs, the first female gangs adopted names that bore no relation to existing male gangs. The first names were also rather innocent sounding reflecting the girls’ lack of experience in street gang crimes. Names such as “Wally Girls”, “Saddleback Girls” and “Silver Middle Girls” were picked as names for the first all female Asian street gangs. Unlike their male counterparts, the initial purpose to the formation of the girl gangs was self protection against other girls. The male gangs had initially formed for the purpose of committing crimes for economic gain. Most of the criminal acts by females acting as a gang in the late 1980’s involved assaults of some type on other females.

As was the pattern with the Southeast Asian male gangs, as word of the female gangs in Southern California became known, Asian females from other parts of the country started showing up. These girls would join or associate with an established female gang for a period of time as a means of being trained. This girl would then eventually return home and start up her own gang based on what she learned on the West Coast. This was the case when four Vietnamese females from Texas joined up with Wally Girls for three months and then returned home to create the “Black Widows.”

Some of the more hard core females started using tattoo’s as a means of gang identification and cigarette burns as a means of showing toughness. Such disfiguration was unheard of for a female in the cultures of Southeast Asia. Surprisingly enough, many of these gang markings were often put in somewhat hidden locations on the girl. (Between the fingers, on the ankle, or on the foot.) According to statements of the girls themselves, this was done not to hide them from the police, but rather to conceal them from the family. Many of the girls still returned home occasionally, and they feared their family’s reaction to the marking more than the reaction of the police. As with the male gang members, the females would often lie about the tattoo or marking when confronted by the police. Many of the female gang tattoos were quite small, especially those put on the hands or between the fingers. The tattoo of the “Southside Scissors”, which is a pair of scissors in the open position, can easily be mistaken for something else when the tattoo is so small. “SSS” members have told the police their tattoo is a butterfly, ladybug or the initial “X”.

By 1990, the all-female Asian gangs had changed dramatically. By this time there were several Asian females who had been convicted and had done time in the State Prison or Youth Authority system. Here they had contact with Occidental (non-Asian) female gang members who taught them that they could commit the same type of crimes as males could. When these parolees were released, they often joined or associated with an established Asian female gang and passed along what they had been taught. In addition, a number of girls were now starting to join the gang who had been born and raised in the United States. These girls had a far better understanding of the American gang structure
due to constant exposure at school, and due to articles in the press. These girls also brought along new ideas and methods that were sometimes adopted by the female Asian gangs.

The names of gangs began to indicate a more sinister nature. Gangs like “Innocent Bitch Killers” and “Southside Scissors” began to show up. The assaults on rival girls became more vicious and some of the girls began to commit crimes for economic gain. However, because they lacked access to firearms (due to the males controlling those weapons and refusing the girls access), the crimes for economic gain usually involved shoplifting rings, purse snatches and bank frauds. At the same time, some of the girls began naming their gangs m conjunction with male gangs that had an established “gang” reputation. “Lady Rascal Gang” became the counterpart to ‘Tiny Rascal Gang”, “Oriental Dragon Girlz” became the counterpart to “Dragon Family” and “Asian Girlz” became the counterpart to “Asian Boyz”. Although there was no code or rule requiring these female gangs to be loyal to their male counterparts, the girls often did back up the males of those particular gangs m various crimes. The purpose of these name affiliations was not to indicate an alliance with that male gang. The use of the “affiliate” name was more of an attempt to gain instant recognition or respect for the female groups.

Today the all-female Asian gangs are just as vicious and just as sophisticated as their male counterparts. Their main limiting factor continues to be lack of access to firearms, which the males consider to be their exclusive domain. But in crimes for economic gain the girls are achieving as much as the males. One of the current specialties is known as “rat-packing.” In this crime, a group of girls goes into a department type store that has already been cased ahead of time. Several of the girls have been designated in advance to run interference. If the group has 10 girls, 4 of those are to run interference. The group will go into a clothing department with high value merchandise and will start to strip the shelves or racks. The 4 interference girls make sure they never participate in the actual taking of clothing. They just stand by until the store security people start to arrive. At this point the 4 interference girls will move in and physically obstruct the security people while the other 6 girls flee with clothing The 4 interference girls are usually arrested however are never caught with any stolen property. They will start to claim racial harassment by the store and will disclaim any knowledge of what those other 6 girls were doing. The take on such a “rat pack” can exceed several thousand dollars depending on the store targeted.

Female gang members are also showing up in large scale bank fraud and counterfeit check schemes. They have discovered it is easier to infiltrate a female into a banks operations office than it is a male. In addition, the girls have an easier time cashing counterfeit checks because they are often subject to less scrutiny.

The number of all female Asian gangs is expected to increase as time goes on. Many of the existing female gangs have copied their male counterparts and are recruiting new members from the schools on the basis of racial issues. Asian girls are being approached to join the gang as a means of self protection against non-Asian female gang members.

A trend seen recently in public schools has been for some of the Southeast Asian females to band together in what is called a “party crew.” These “crews” are relatively innocent at first consisting of girls who always attended dances or parties in a group. There is no criminal activity involved, but the females gave themselves nicknames in the same manner as street gang members. (Baby Giggles, Shygirl, Lady Death, etc.)

In addition the “party crews” often have names in the manner of street gangs. (Fearless Asian Sisters, Premature Sisters, Micky D’s Girls, etc.) Graffiti associated with the creWs name or the nicknames of its members can often be found on schoolbooks belonging to the girls. The graffiti is done in the same style and mannerisms as seen in street gang writing.

These “crews” are able to attract a sizable number of girls, especially on junior high and elementary school campuses. This attraction occurs because the “crew” is seen initially as nothing more than a social clique. Girls joining such a “crew” are offered instant acceptance and friendships, important issues for those in the pre-teen and early teen years.

A number of these “crews” have now evolved into criminal street gangs. In some instances it is because one member of the “crew” has been insulted or attacked and the other members rally to her defense. There have also been instances where one “crew” has gone to war with another “crew” (usually from rival schools). In addition, girls from “crews” often attract the attention of male gang members which has caused tension between girl gang members and “crew” girls. Once the girls have established the pattern of physical aggression in the group, other criminal activity becomes much easier to do.

In at least two cases outside elements have affected the evolution of the “crew” into a street gang. In the first, a male hard core gang member purposely began dating the acknowledged leader/founder of a junior high school crew”. The male was 19 years old. the girl had just turned 14. The male convinced the girl to align her “crew” with his already established male street gang. This alliance subsequently required the female members of the “crew” to participate in criminal activities with the males.

In the other case of an outside influence affecting an established “crew”, an older female from another geographic region came into the area and decided she wanted to establish an all female gang. Being from another part of the state, this older female did not have the contacts and associations usually required in the gang subculture.

But this individual saw at the local junior high school a group of females already organized as “crew” with a name and identifying signs. All the older outsider had to do was ingratiate herself with the “crew”. Once that was accomplished, because of her age, the outsider moved into a leadership role and moved the group into criminal activities.

More and more of the Southeast Asian girls are finding it easier to break away from a traditional home and fall in with the gang subculture. Some of the older females will probably move into organized crime type activities as the realization sets in that they can do the same type of criminal activities that males do. The “Thanh Lan” or “Dragon Lady” organization already exists. Starting in Orange County, this 45 year old lady has expanded her criminal enterprise as far north as Canada and has close ties with Chinese organized crime.

It will only be a matter of time before the females gain access to firearms in the same manner and quantity as the males. No doubt we will see the first all female residential home invasion robbery team within the next three years. Occasional reports are already surfacing of Asian females being involved in drive-by shootings that are gang related. The female Asian street gangs will soon present as great a threat as the male gangs. Their traditional limitations have been size and weapons. Both of these are being overcome as cultural traditions and limitations are cast aside.

Some of the established female Southeast Asian street gangs:

Southside Scissors
Oriental Dragon GirIz
Lady Rascal Gang’
Asian Girlz
Koreatown Crazy Chicas
Innocent Bitch Killers.

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