Suburban Gangs

The Affluent Rebels

By Dan Korem



The material provided here is adapted from the critically acclaimed book SUBURBAN GANGS-THE AFFLUENT REBELS by investigative journalist and internationally recognized gang expert, Dan Korem. In the mid-1980s Dan Korem predicted in university lectures that gangs in upscale communities would become a chronic trend due to specific social trends he had observed first-hand. This led to research on suburban gangs over a period of seven years in eleven countries and the only comprehensive book on the subject. Then, in the late 1980s, youths from affluent, upscale communities began forming their own gangs for the first time in the US and European history. Even countries such as Switzerland are experiencing the unprecedented appearance of these gangs. This FAQ answers some of the most frequently asked questions about this new gang phenomenon. Please be sure to review the Missing Protector Strategy, which is a result of Korem’s research and stops most at-risk behavior for at-risk youths. When this strategy—which can be incorporated into virtually any existing program or initiative—was applied to over 400 severely at-risk youths, not one youth joined a gang. For further in-depth answers and information, please consult Dan Korem’s excellent text, which is filled with helpful insight and is now being used in numerous universities.


Please feel free to copy and use any of the information in this FAQ with the following copyright acknowledgment:
Adapted from:
by Dan Korem
International Focus Press, 1995

1. Are gangs in upscale communities new or have we seen this trend before?

This is a new trend without precedent. While lone youth gangs have appeared in isolated cases, the current trend has been persistent and steadily growing since the mid-1980s.

2. Are suburban gangs as dangerous as inner-city gangs?

The number of violent crimes per gang member isn’t as great, but homicides do occur and with increasing frequency. However, we have recently seen that affluent youths with money, mobility, and education can pose a deadly terrorist threat. A small cell of these youths can wreak massive devastation. The 1997 Pearl, MS school shooting was a result of this gang variant, as well as Littleton, CO. (See Suburban Gang Update for case examples.)

3. Aren’t suburban gangs just like the on-the-edge groups and cliques when I grew up?

No. When we say, “gang,” we are only talking about a group of youths banded together in a specific context who commit crimes. If a specific group of youths-regardless of their cultural facade-doesn’t commit crimes, then it shouldn’t be described or labeled as a gang. That is why the Littleton incident and others must be classified as gang activity.

4. What types of gangs are forming?

There are three gangs types that have been identified and typed by Dan Korem, and each type can have many different variants. (Four chapters in Suburban Gangs details the many variants that have appeared in the US and Europe and how youth gang types are now inspiring one another across the Atlantic for the first time in history.)

  • Delinquent Gangs: Desire for profit and thuggery.
  • Ideological Gangs: Formed around an ideology.
  • Occultic Gangs: Incorporate a belief in the occult.

5. How many females are in gangs?

Typically 5-10% in suburban communities, while in urban areas membership can be as high as 25% and some are even exclusively female.

6. Why have I never heard of this trend before?

When gangs first appeared in most affluent communities there was a natural resistance to label these groups as gangs because of the stereotypical image that gangs only appear in economically depressed communities.When gangs are first observed in a community, there is often pressure from local government to play down the trend. Some common reasons for this are: protect property values; maintain an image that is conducive to attract outside business, thus protecting the tax base, and; avoid publicity that might make “gang-banging” appealing to attention-seeking youths. While there might be some good intentions concerning this last point, it is almost never a good idea not to educate a community so that preemptiveaction can be taken.

Only in the last 3-4 years have local law enforcement agencies been able to publish their statistics-due to local political pressure. Most juvenile officers, however, favor open disclosure, which is now occurring across the US.

Presently, suburban gang awareness is at a similar point as the drug crisis in the 1970s-when many communities denied having a drug problem. As drug prevention programs eventually became a permanent fixture in most communities, so too will gang prevention programs in the next few years.

7. How many gangs/gang members are there in the average middle- and upper-middle-class community?

It is common for anywhere from 200 up to 500 gang members to be present in a middle- or upper-middle-class community with a population of 50,000.

8. Why are we seeing gangs in upscale communities for the first time in US and European history?

The popular misconception is that the appearanceof gangs is due to economic deterioration. That is, gangs initially appear and form due to economic blight. This misconception was due to the fact that gangs first appeared in the US in economically depressed inner-city areas. (Note:inner-city in the US specifies poor, run-down communities in a major city, while in Europeinner-city specifies any community that is within the ring —the ring road or highway that circles many European cities—which may or may not be economically blighted.)

The formation of gangs in persistent numbers in affluent communities, however, dismisses this notion. The consistent connecting factor between affluent and inner-city youths who join gangs is that they both typically come from broken or severely dysfunctional homes. For years the number of youths from these kinds of homes in inner-city communities has been catastrophically high. Since the late 1950s, the number of youths from broken/ruptured homes in upscale communities has skyrocketed. In the mid- to late-1980s the number of at-risk youths in affluent communities hit a critical mass and affluent gangs started to form.

9. Is there a predictable profile of a typical gang member?

Most gang members come from a family environment where we find one of five family factors:

  1. Divorce
  2. Separation
  3. Physical Abuse
  4. Sexual Abuse (verbal abuse alone is an uncommon factor)
  5. One of the parents is severely dysfunctional, such as alcoholism

A new factor that now accounts for 5–15% of gang recruitment outside of the inner-city is:Both parents work full-time jobs, both don’t have to work full-time jobs.

Additionally, over 75% of gang youths have the Missing Protector Factor (MPF) operative in their lives, which is explained below.The ruptured/broken home acts as a magnifying glass on a youth’s rebellion, particularly those who already have a more rebellious bent than their peers. When frustration, anger, loneliness, isolation, etc. become exaggerated, youths find those like themselves. The result: the gang. Other factors, such as destructive entertainment media, inspire gang variants, but the primal root cause of gangs is family deterioration.

Regarding personality traits, there is typically no distinguishing pattern from other groups of youths: some youths will display emotional control, while others won’t, some will be directive, while others prefer to be directed, etc.

10. Is there one key factor when layered on top of the ruptured/broken home that increases the likelihood that a youth will be recruited into a gang?

Yes, and it is called the Missing Protector Factor (MPF) referenced above. Simply stated, the MPF is when a youth is faced with a crisis and there is no adult that he/she can turn to for help who lives in the neighborhood. That is, there is noadult protector in his/her life. The MPF dramatically increases the risk of gang recruitment as is found operative in about 75% of gang youths. Conversely, when at-risk youths receive a Protector who lives in their neighborhood, at-risk behavior typically comes to a halt.

Korem & Associates has developed the Missing Protector Strategywhich has stopped at-risk behavior for virtually every youth who has received a Protector, including: suicide, chronic drug use, teen pregnancy, truancy, and poor classroom performance. Please go the theMissing Protector Strategy page on this website for a complete description and how your community can immediately initiate it.

11. Who qualifies as a Protector?

A Protector is an adult who sees a youth once a month in person and maintains phone contact at least once a week. An older non-adult sibling typically doesn’t qualify. Youths need protection provided by those who are older and wiser. Theprotector, who lives conveniently close to a youth, simply responds to a youth’s call for help. This doesn’t mean that the protector will be able to solve all of a youth’s problems. Not even parents can do that. A protector simply tries to help, counsel, guide, or seek outside help for a youth-just like a concerned parent.

A protector is different from a mentor, such as volunteers in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program who spend significant time helping direct a youth’s life. While mentoring programs are a desirable influence in a youth’s life, mentors are hard to recruit. Even those who are concerned about helping youths simply don’t have two or three days/nights a week to spend with a youth. However, when youths have adult protectors, most won’t join a gang—even if they remain in an at-risk home or neighborhood.

An Unprecedented Success Story-When theMissing Protector Strategy was specifically addressed in the lives of over 400 severely at-risk youths in Dallas County over a period of six years, not one youth joined a gang. Dan Korem, the author of Suburban Gangs-The Affluent Rebels, personally participated in this effort. Over 1/3 of these youths had actually seen someone shot or stabbed in their neighborhoods loaded with gangs. Yet, when concerned adults made a very small investment of their time not a single youth opted for gang activity.

12. What can I do to stop gangs from forming in my neighborhood?

As already noted, the only known strategy that works and also stops a host of other at-risk behavior is applying the Missing Protector Strategy This is based upon Dan Korem’s research across fifteen countries. For more information about this strategy, you are strongly urged to go to the Missing Protector Strategywebpage.

13. Is the gang just a replacement for the family?

The root need is even more primal than the need to have a family: it is the desire to be released from pain, anger, anguish, etc. spawned by the broken/ruptured home. Youths hope that the gang will provide one of three following devices or payoffs:

The Mask–You put on your gang regalia, swagger, look imposing, fire off your secret hand signals and you can pretend that you are something that you are not.

Distraction Device–Join a gang, become absorbed in the crazed culture and you don’t have to think about what is going on at home. You can avoid dealing with the real issues in your life.

Empowering Device–This is particularly common for females in gangs who have been molested or abused. For them, the gang can give them power over others. (Female membership in suburban gangs is typically 5%-10%.)

14. Which is more effective gang prevention or gang intervention?

Almost unanimously those in law enforcement in the US and Europe agree that gang prevention is what will win the war while intervention will only have a marginal effect. Logically, which would you rather address, a youth addicted to drugs or initiate action that will prevent a youth from ever using drugs the first time? The same is true when it comes to gang prevention.

Prevention: Actions taken by individuals, schools, churches, social organizations, etc.that results in the reduction of a youth’s at-risk factorsbefore a youth is recruited into a gang.

Intervention: Strategic action that disengages youths from gangs, ranging from one-on-one interaction to incarceration. Dan Korem identified the eleven reasons why a youth will disengage from a gang, but experience reveals that in inner-city communities disengagement efforts will only be successful approximately 10-20% of the time and efforts directed at youths in affluent communities approximately 25-50%.

15. How do you help a youth who is already in a gang disengage?

Attempting to help youths disengage from gangs is a matching process. One must match the payoff(s) a youth hopes to get from gang activity as described in Question 8 with one or more of the eleven predictable reasons why a youth will disengage as identified by Dan Korem. Some of these reasons are surprising, such as when one points out to a youth that he fits a predictable profile. Youths in gangs often don’t want to believe that adults can figure them out. It isn’t uncommon for such a youth to disengage because the facade has been peeled away and they realize that why they do what they do isn’t a mystery, thus the raciness is gone. Please see Suburban Gangs—The Affluent Rebels for more detailed guidance.

16. Should I personally get involved in gang intervention efforts?

Crimes committed by gang youths are often random and seemingly without rationale. For this reason, direct gang intervention efforts should be left to those with experience engaging these youths such as juvenile officers, youth ministries, etc.

17. Should I be concerned that my child is likely to get into a gang?

Most parents only need be concerned if their child has one of the six factors detailed earlier and/or the MPF is operative in their child’s life.

18. Aren’t small towns less vulnerable to gang activity?

No. Gang related crimes, such as homicides, are occurring in small towns across the US. Sometimes this is due to gang members moving to a community. More commonly, however, the number of at-risk youths in small towns has risen to intolerable levels, and these youths are then inspired by youth subculture media (movies, music, magazines) just like their counterparts in large metropolitan cities. There is no evidence that this trend will reverse itself anytime soon.

19. Are other countries witnessing the appearance of affluent gangs in upscale communities?

Yes. All Western, Central, and Eastern European countries have been experiencing this trend since the mid- and late-1980s-from England to Switzerland to Hungary.

20. If I suspect that gang activity is present in my neighborhood, what should I do?

First, let your exposure to this new gang activity encourage you to get involved in a youth’s lifepreemptively before he/she joins a gang. Become educated about this new affluent gang trend. Second, unless you have proven experience dealing with juvenile delinquency, don’t directly confront gang members, rather contact your local juvenile officer and the appropriate school officials for assistance.