The role of female gang members may be evolving in Honduras

Female gang members in Honduras are taking a more active role in criminal activities as gang leaders are transferred into maximum security prisons, a Honduras newspaper reported. If true, the long-term implications could be devastating.

Female gang members are now reportedly selling drugs and carrying out extortion activities, a shift from their once common role of collecting extortion money and delivering it to gang leaders in prison, La Prensa reported

The potential shift comes as gang leaders are increasingly being transferred into two of Honduras' maximum security prisons -- La Tolva and El Pozo, the latter created last year as part of an overhaul of the country's troubled correctional system. This has left the Barrio 18 in disarray, according to La Prensa, providing an opportunity for female gang members -- referred to in the story as "Varrio 18" -- to develop a more active role in the gang's activities. 

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

In these maximum security prisons, leaders of the Barrio 18 no longer have access to cell phones previously used to hand down orders, according to La Prensa. Gang members vying for leadership positions are now imposing and enforcing the gang's laws themselves, handing out their own orders that involve female gang members, according to La Prensa. 

One San Pedro Sula businessman told La Prensa that female gang members are now demanding extortion money. However, according to the businessman, they are confused and asking for smaller amounts of money than their male counterparts once did. As a result, the businessman has stopped paying extortion money. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

If the reports are true, the evolving role of female gang members in Honduras has the potential to be a devastating development. First, this would invariably lead to higher incarceration rates for women, something that is already happening in Latin America on the whole where the number of females in jail is growing at a faster rate than the number of incarcerated men.  

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons

Second, women are very often caregivers. And if more women are incarcerated as they become more involved in criminal activities, their dependents may become even more susceptible to criminal influences.

However, reports of women taking leading roles in criminal organizations has been greatly exaggerated in the past. Women are often used to pick up extortion payments, but this does not mean they are taking over as gang leaders. Most women are also still incarcerated for low level criminal activities and drug possession. 

Investigations

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