In most domestic violence cases, there are two primary people involved — an abuser and a victim. But for those who are being abused by a gang member, there may be multiple abusers, according to the Family Safety Center's Executive Director Olliette Murry-Drobot.
"It used to be that when an abuser was in a gang, there was a 'hands-off' mentality, as the other members of the gang didn't interfere in the relationship — it was the abuser's woman, his business," Murry-Drobot said. "But, that's changed, and we have seen a lot more victims being further victimized by their abuser's fellow gang members. While incarcerated, the abuser has 'eyes' on her at all times, receiving reports back about her whereabouts, who she's spending time with, and such."
None of the clients of Family Safety Center (FSC) of Memphis and Shelby County who are currently dealing with gang-related domestic violence were willing to speak with the Flyer, but Angie Galyean, an FSC navigator, spoke about her role helping these women escape from abusive situations.
"I notice in more of my higher-risk cases that there's a gang affiliation there. When there is, there's also an intimidation factor. You're not just being intimidated by one offender, you're also potentially being intimidated by all the other gang members," Galyean said.
She said gang members are often more violent as abusers, and they have access to more resources, such as guns and bail money from fellow gang members when the offender is locked up.
"If the offender is in jail, all he has to do is make a phone call to one of his fellow gang members, and they can reach out and threaten the victim," Galyean said.
In non-gang-related cases, Galyean says the FSC will sometimes urge the victims to move across town to get away from their abuser. But in these gang cases, she said it's not so simple.
"Here in Memphis, the gang members are everywhere, in every part of town. So we'll encourage them to move some place out of town if that's a good idea," Galyean said. "But if their next best option is to go live with their cousin in Atlanta, that may not be a good idea either. If the offender is part of a larger gang, that gang will have reach into other major cities. It's really difficult. I'm not going to lie."
Something that makes these cases even more difficult, said Galyean, is the average age of these victims. She said, when there's gang affiliation in a domestic violence situation, more often than not, the victims are teenagers. If they're still in high school, moving out of the city isn't an option. Teenagers can't even get an order of protection on their own, but rather, their parents must file for the order.
Galyean said it's hard to say how many such cases end up at the FSC — which helps women with protection orders, safety planning, housing, counseling, and other resources. That's because some victims facing violence from gang members aren't willing to tell their FSC navigator about the gang affiliation.
"There's a fear that if they tell somebody, the gang may retaliate. The victims often have information about gang culture and illegal activities," Galyean said.
When the FSC does know about gang affiliation, the center can work with the Memphis Police Department and Shelby County Sheriff's Department's gang units.
"If it's one gang member, it's not considered gang activity. But if it's two gang members, it is," Galyean said. "If that happens, we let the domestic violence units know, and they pass that along to the gang units."