Meet The Woman Helping Teen Girls Escape A Life Of Gangs, Rape & Violence

Carlene Firmin

Carlene Firmin is a woman who has dedicated her studies and life to putting an end to the rape of teenage girls by the male peers. The 29 year old is currently completing a PhD at Bedfordshire University, delving into the harrowing issue of peer on peer abuse and is campaigning for change.

Three years ago this vigilante dynamo from London has received an MBE (in case you are unfamiliar, it stands for “Member of the Most Excellent order of the British Empire and is given to civil servants for outstanding achievements and service within the community) because of her work helping girls who had been attached to gangs and felt shame for their association, even though they are victims who are repeatedly being raped and abused.

Carlene conducted that research between 2005-2008, interviewing 800 girls. She became interested in these issues after hearing about 6 murders in as many months in her home town, and knew something had to change.

Carlene has since reported her incredible findings to a UN Council in the hope that this issue will be addressed on a more global scale.

Her efforts were so well-received in society that the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service have given her access to their files on violent cases among the young, to help further her research. This means she had better access to the victims which helped her case.

She is continuing to bring awareness and is determined to lift the lid on this issue, as most people don’t realize how rampant it is among teenagers.

“We have a child protection system that is designed to look at risk in the home and assess a child there,’ she argues. ‘But in the files I’ve looked at, the primary risk – in terms of sexual abuse, physical assault and risk of offending – comes from their peer group,” said Carlene.

“Girls are often drawn in during the first term of secondary school,” Firmin explains. “Everyone’s trying to fit in and some are very vulnerable to bullying. This is a very extreme form of sexual bullying. The girls are told: ‘If you want to hang around with us, you have to do this.’”


According to her research, victims of child-on-child sexual abuse are between 11 and 13 years old, and perpetrators between 13 and 15. That is mind blowing! Those are teenagers who should be focusing their time on exams, and friends, and colleges. She told the Evening Standard that it is a complicated area because both the victims and the perps are minors.

After one girl was gang-raped, six boys were convicted. But the girl and her family had to be moved permanently as they were threatened. So did her grandmother, two friends who had testified and a boy who had intervened. “We just shipped everyone out. Nothing changed in that neighborhood.”Carlene recalls the worst case she had ever seen, to the Rosamund Urwin at the Evening Standard. She once met a 20 year old woman at a refuge who had been in two relationships both with gang members as a teen. They broke both her legs and her collar bone. Slashed her with knives. Beat her. Her baby was stillborn at eight months and she can no longer have children due to internal injuries.

That wasn’t the end of it. Both of those gang members repeatedly raped her in front of friends and filmed it, she was forced to sell drugs to pay off some made-up “debt” and at the end of it all the girl was too ashamed to tell anyone because she feared judgement.

“She hadn’t told anyone about her gang association because she thought they wouldn’t see her as a victim any more,” says Firmin. “She thought she’d brought it on herself because she gained something from the relationships: her ex was giving her coke … She couldn’t acknowledge she was a ‘worthy’ victim.”

Often the girls who are victims are treated as the issue and institutions such as schools are only equipped to do “damage control” rather than get to the root of the issue. The victims are bullied into moving schools, neighborhoods, and changing their communities altogether because the crimes are not treated as such.

This is why her research is so crucial. Carlene says it is governments and other organizations who need to be aware of the delicate issue, but not brush aside the fact that real crimes are committed and can affect these victims for the rest of their lives if not treated properly. And on a grander scale, these atrocities will just become part of the UK school systems and nothing can be done because it has been overlooked for so long. Carlene doesn’t want this to happen.

She wants to expose it, enable the government to make better laws that protect the children, and allow the helpless girls in this situation not to be afraid of coming forward to get help.

Carlene Firmin

Because her report was so detailed about an important issue, she managed to get $1.2 million from the UK government to put toward services that protect and work with young people at risk of gang-related and sexual violence. It’s pretty powerful to know that one girl who spends her time uncovering injustice is able to create change in society with the help of the government.

“Before my research there was nothing in government policy to deal with gang violence with women,” she says. She has uncovered so many more details such as porn playing a huge role in influencing teenage boys to repeat some of those acts they see in a video on their victims.  And they encourage bystanders or peers to take sides therefore turning it into victim blaming. It is definitely not a one-trick solution.

Out of her research, Carlene started her own organization called MsUnderstood which investigates and addresses gender inequality among the young. She has even been an adviser to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner on a highly publicized report into youth sexual violence in the UK. This woman is a true everyday hero whose efforts are having a major impact on many girls’ lives.

She concludes by saying there is a lot of work to be done and can be tiring for her. She eventually hopes to take on more staff to help her as she gets more involved with the government to help them change laws. Although it is tiring work, and sometimes thankless and a little depressing in the initial stages, she says the results speak for themselves and make it all worth it.

“There’s only so much MsUnderstood can do. We need to not be needed, and for the work to be delivered without me there. I want a national strategy to tackle the issue,” says Carlene, who was nominated in the UK Cosmopolitan Magazine Ultimate Woman Of The Year awards which took place on December 5, 2013.

“If I was doing this work, and nothing had changed, I’d feel more sick than I do. Eight years ago, people didn’t want to listen about girls and gangs. That is no longer the case. And these girls need our help.”

Carlene is a true inspiration to many of us showing that there are girls out there in our communities, towns and societies who need our help. All we have to do is keep our eyes and ears open to the needs around us and find a way we can be agents of change. It doesn’t have to be on a huge global scale, you can start small and make a difference in the life of even one girl. Well done Carlene for realizing the worth of every young girl and working toward these victims regaining a life and a future for themselves. We hope many more advocates will follow your lead.

Carlene Firmin


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  1. God bless her for bringing this to the fore front!

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