Posted on Leave a comment

Carlene Firmin on gangs, exploitation and violence – research and practice – PP133


Play the Podcast Episode Now


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, many positive initiative have been set up like the Young Women’s Advocates scheme set up by the Home Office in 2011. The Advocates are still in place now in a number of the areas.

Carlene is involved with launching a network of practitioners in September 2016 .

Is punishment effective in persuading young people not to carry knives?

Carlene believes we can’t police our way out of social issues. We need an enforcement response but we would be very short-sighted if we believed that if we arrested everyone carrying a knife the problem would be fixed. She believes we need to think wholistically about what our policy towards knife carrying is and then see how enforcement fits in to this. We need to address the questions of why young people are carrying knives and why they are being violent towards each other.

What are we saying about society if a young person feels like the only way they can travel to school is to arm themselves?

What do educators need to know about peer-on-peer violence?

It does affect a significant number of young people in this country – for example one in four young women report they have experienced sexual coercion before they turn 18.

These incidents are not divorced from context – we need to concentrate on creating safe environments as well as education.

Is peer mentoring also useful?

Carlene believes that young people are critical to the response to peer violence. No-one wants to be socially isolated as a teenager and sometimes this can lead to negative relationships and even violence but Carlene says that this can also be turned on its head to produce opportunities for young people to form friendships which are positive and can draw them away from negative situations.

In Scotland there are already a range of ‘bystander interventions’ in schools. Young people are trained and supported to challenge their peer’s behaviours, for example in sharing explicit images. Where this is done in schools it may have a positive effect on young people’s experiences outside school as well.

Carlene also shares a lot more detail and examples on the episode – do listen!

Tweet of the Week

New App!

There is a new Pivotal App available with a host of new features. Download it from Google Play or the Apple App Store.


Join in with the positive reinforcement for one or two of your learners who have gone over and above each week. Use the hashtag #hotchocfri to share your pictures with us on twitter.

Send in your suggestions for guests!

We already have a brilliant line-up of guests arranged for the podcast but if there’s anyone you are dying to hear from, let us know by leaving a voicemail (bottom left of the page), sending an email to or tweeting @PivotalPodcast.

Read the full show notes on the Pivotal Education site

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

fifteen − nine =