HomeNewsBriefResearch Sheds Light on Obstacles to Leaving El Salvador Gangs
BRIEF

Research Sheds Light on Obstacles to Leaving El Salvador Gangs

BARRIO 18 / 24 MAR 2017 BY LEONARDO GOI EN

A recent study of El Salvador's gang phenomenon has shown that, while it is possible for gang members to abandon these groups, desistance depends on several factors, including the gangs' own acquiescence.

A study carried out by Florida International University, shows that desistance from gangs in El Salvador is possible and takes place more often than it is usually believed.

In the short term, however, the report states that gang members' successful exit depends on their commitment to leaving the criminal structure, and crucially, on the consent of the gang leaders themselves. The study concludes that abandoning a gang is a delicate and gradual process that must be constantly negotiated with the group one chooses to leave.

The study was based on a survey of 1,196 respondents and 32 in-depth interviews. Almost half of the interviewees belonged, or had belonged, to the MS13 gang, and a smaller percentage were affiliated with the Barrio 18 Sureños, the Barrio 18 Revolucionarios and other gangs.

InSight Crime Analysis

The finding that gang desistance is possible and happens more often than is usually believed helps to debunk the belief that Salvadoran gangs are watertight groups, and no options are left for their members once they choose to join up.

Aspiring deserters undergo a long and gradual separation, first reducing their participation in gang activities and eventually devoting more time to religious activities and their families, according to the report. Nonetheless, the study also indicates that 58 percent of former gang members received threats for abandoning the gangs, and that the lack of job opportunities is one of the greatest challenges that Salvadorans face in attempting to leave organized crime groups.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

Most interviewed gang members had dropped out of school before completing their primary eduation, which appears to confirm the gangs' tendency to recruit, at times even forcibly, under-educated minors, as they seem to attract less attention from authorities and are not punished as severely as adults if caught.

At the same time, the report stresses the importance of religious communities, as they provide a vital space for deserters to strengthen their ties with society and look for new opportunities away from the gangs' threats. The importance of religion for Salvadoran gang members is well known, and the church has taken credit for brokering past truces between organized crime groups.

But the recent study also highlights that gangs often police the moral life of their former members. Thus, showing an absolute commitment to one's faith and behaving in accordance with the values of a pious life is considered mandatory for all aspiring deserters.

Read the full report below:

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EL SALVADOR / 29 MAY 2018

Few have followed the anti-graft fight in Central America’s Northern Triangle region as closely as Guatemala-born US Congresswoman Norma Torres,…

BARRIO 18 / 25 JUL 2013

A key witness disappeared during the trial of several Barrio 18 gang members accused of carrying out a massacre, in…

BARRIO 18 / 22 FEB 2016

Over 480 gang members or collaborators reportedly infiltrated El Salvador's armed forces and police between 2010 and 2015, but these…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.