Gangs thrive on the loyalty of their members. From top to bottom, hierarchy and a sense of belonging is key to keeping people from leaving and fostering a sense of meaning in its members.
This is vitally important, as a gang member might be asked at any time to kill, torture, steal and even commit acts of extreme sexual violence on the orders of their bosses.
In order to ensure members carry out those orders with no questions asked, they are groomed and made to go through tough initiations in order to join their crime families.
Some of these initiations are as gruesome and sickening as the crimes that members will be expected to commit on a daily basis.
These are just some of them.
Knights Templar Cartel: Cannibalism
Mexican authorities waging war with their country’s ruthless drug cartels revealed a harrowing depth of depravity that the Knights Templar sink to.
According to testimonies, new members of the cartel were reportedly forced to eat children’s hearts as part of their initiation.
Alfredo Castilo, government envoy for the state of Michoacan in Mexico, told a local radio station: “At an initiation ceremony they used the organs, in this case, the heart, and forced people going through this process to eat it.”
It is believed the gang is no longer in operation following the death of its leader Pablo “El 500” Toscano Padilla.
Crips: Getting “squared in”
The Crips is one of the most infamous gangs in the US, with tens of thousands of members in branches found across the country and beyond.
It is known to be in open warfare with its rivals and has been linked to various murders, robberies and drug dealing – adding to its reputation as one of the cruelest organisations on Earth.
A harrowing example of the gang’s barbarity can be seen when they give those wanting to make their way into the group a brutal beating.
In footage seen 8million times called “Inside a Gang Initiation with the Silent Murder Crips”, it follows the exploits of a new recruit known only as JT as he prepared to be “squared in”.
The brutal beating dished out by nearly half-a-dozen members of the gang which is his initiation to see he how handles a kicking and even the lad’s closest friends left JT bloodied and struggling to stay on his feet following the attack.
Multiple gangs: Sexual exploitation
According to a 2019 research paper led by the Medical College of Wisconsin, there are some 30,000 gangs and an estimated 1million juvenile gang members in the US.
For many women, sex becomes a key aspect to their life in the gang – namely being exploited into doing “sex jobs”.
The study also references previous research that found gang-affiliated youth first have sex between 13 and 14 years old, which leaves many children and young adults open to sexual exploitation.
It said: “The role of sex within gangs is initially evident in gang initiation rite, namely “sexing-in” wherein prospective female gang members to gain membership.”
Researchers did add, however, that gang members often provided “conflicting accounts” and that only two girls reported sexual initiation, although it “is thought to be underreported by girls”.
The MS-13 gang is considered one of the most vicious in Central America and has spread outside its borders to the US and beyond.
Heinous acts of violence, which were documented in the US, led President Donald Trump to call its members “animals” and he vowed to fight the gang.
He has a right to be concerned.
Insight Crime and the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies said that formal entry into the gang requires initiates to pass a “final exam” – in El Salvador, this means committing murder.
It added: “Because they have to commit murder, initiates who go through the final exam in El Salvador are looked upon as more battle-hardened, law enforcement sources in the US told us.”
London gangs: Stabbings
With the number of stabbings increasing in recent years in the nation’s capital many have been left fearing for the lives of their loved ones as well as themselves.
Last year, Christel Stainfield-Bruce was walking with her three-year-old son when she was stabbed in the leg after refusing to hand over her phone.
She believed the stabbing was a “gang initiation” of some sorts, and is not the only one to believe this.
Parents of gang members also give similar accounts, claiming their children had been told to stab a person in the hands, foot or buttocks.
Bloods: Buck fifty
A longtime rival of the Crips, the Bloods have their own grisly initiation of new members that leaves a lifelong mark on the victim.
New recruits are reportedly asked in some cases to carry out a “buck fifty” attack on a target.
A buck fifty is a name for a deep cut to the face that requires 150 stitches and would leave a nasty scar that the victim would have to live with for life.
On Reddit, a man claiming to have grown up around the gang said: “The most gruesome was the initiation of a Blood in which he had to perform a buck fifty.
“Basically the gang recruit takes a blade or so etching like an exacta knife and cuts a person in the face as hard as they can.”
Yakuza: Cut family ties
The Yakuza are known to be one of the more strictly formal hierarchies that involves members swearing the ultimate oath to the clan and leaving their family members behind.
But, once inside the gang, the strict rituals do not end.
If a member goes against the code of the crime family or wrongs them somehow, it is determined they should pay with flesh.
This typically means that the gang member who has wronged the clan must cut off the tip of their pinky finger in order to show atonement.
Members also get tattoos, which sometimes cover much of the body.
This connection between tattoos and Yakuza has led people with ink to be banned from entering certain establishments – namely bathtubs – and being viewed with suspicion from some Japanese people.