Street Gangs

A streetgang is a more or less structured group made up mostly of teenagers and young adults who use group intimidation and violence to carry out criminal acts to gain power and status or control lucrative activities. (extortion , drug trafficking, prostitution, etc.).

Street gang leaders model the easy life for young teens who want to join them: lots of money, plenty of beautiful girls, power and control over a section of the city. But most street gang members who choose to leave a gang talk more about the spiral of violence they got caught up in. In the beginning, they don't see how far things will go, but they get pushed to commit worse and worse actions.

Common personality traits

Usually boys approach street gangs to become members and girls are recruited by the gangs. Belonging to a gang is attractive for some more vulnerable youth because the gang fulfils their needs.

Indeed, gangs appear to offer young people the following sources of satisfaction:

  • A place to belong
  • A family
  • Physical protection
  • Social support
  • Solidarity
  • An opportunity to develop self esteem
  • Validation
  • Money
  • Power
  • Status

Common personality traits of street gang members

  • Behavioural problems (e.g., violence, delinquency)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Need for glorification
  • Rejection of standards

The emotional, psychological and social needs of street gang members are often unfulfilled.

Some of the character traits listed below may also simply be natural in adolescents. It is important to observe the person’s behaviour as a whole, in context. If these traits are truly exaggerated, it is worth looking more closely, without necessarily drawing the conclusion that the person has become a street gang member.

Signs of belonging to a street gang

These indicators must be considered overall to be deemed meaningful. Some of these behaviours may just be the usual signs of being a teenager.

The teen:

  • Seems to dress according to a specific dress code (specific clothing)
  • Wears clothing or owns items that he or she could not normally afford to buy
  • Has less and less interest in school
  • Has lost interest in former friends and activities
  • Has new, older friends identified by nicknames, whom the parent has never met
  • Consumes alcohol and drugs
  • Goes to street gang Internet chat sites
  • Uses hateful or racist language
  • Has been the victim of crime or fears being victimized
  • Has had problems with the police
  • Owns a weapon 

What to do?

If you are a victim of or witness to street gang actions, dial 911 or call Info-Crime at 514 393-1133 (all calls are completely confidential). You can also contact your poste de quartier (neighbourhood police station), the CLSC or CAVAC, the assistance centre for victims of crime.

How to get out of a street gang?

  • Don't isolate yourself. Ask friends that you trust or a responsible adult for help getting out (you can also call Tel-jeunes)
  • Consult a special resource
  • Avoid hanging around with people in the gang
  • Avoid going to places where crimes are likely to occur, such as alleyways, parks, and deserted streets and parking lots
  • When you go for a walk, take main streets, commercial thoroughfares and well-lit routes
  • Avoid carrying valuable objects and wearing brand-name clothing or other signs indicating that you belong to a street gang

How to help a friend get out of a street gang?

  • Speak to your friend, talk about your impressions and your concerns
  • Listen without judging
  • Encourage your friend to spend time with friends who aren't in the gang
  • Encourage your friend to spend time doing things the gang members don't do
  • Help your friend find a resource person

Don't hesitate to talk to a responsible adult about your concerns and fears. There are lots of resources to help you (e.g., Tel-jeunes is there for you).  

How to help your child get out of a street gang?

  • Talk to your teenager about street gangs and listen to his or her fears
  • Encourage your teenager to find out more about the street gang phenomenon
  • Teach your teenager about ways to avoid being intimidated or recruited
  • Offer the protection, attention and support your teenager needs
  • If you are worried about your child, ask for the help of a special resource, a Police Officer, a CLSC counsellor or a community leader
  • Never minimize your teenager’s complaints about bullying or extortion
  • Do not encourage verbal or physical violence as an acceptable means of defence
  • Make sure you know where your child hangs out, at school and elsewhere
  • Encourage your child to stay in school
  • Encourage your child to participate in healthy, active social and physical activities, to promote positive socialization with other teens
  • If your child runs away, report it immediately to the police to get help if your child’s safety is compromised
  • Reinforce your child’s self-esteem by fostering his or her strengths and talents 



  • Tel-jeunes 1 800 263-2266
  • Kids Help Phone 1 800 668-6868
  • Community relations officer in your neighbourhood police station

Specialized resources:

  • Project Emergency exit: 514 236-0754
  • Neighbourhood CLSC: 514 286-5615
  • Centre jeunesse de Montréal : 514 286-5615
  • Youth Protection Directorate: 514 593-3979
  • Crime Victims' Assistance Centre: 514 864-1500  

Find out more

"Break the Silence!" brochure

  • This guide is for girls aged 11 to 15
  • It teaches them about the strategies of charming manipulators who use seduction to lead young girls into prostitution 

Connais-tu ma gang? (in french only)