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Exploring the Effects of Friendship on Risky Sexual Behavior: A Look at Female Gang Members

Gang membership is associated with increased exposure to risky behaviors, including violent victimization and other negative health outcomes (Krohn and Thornberry 2008; Howell and Decker 1999) Using a sample of 74 African American female gang members from Champaign IL, this study explores the association between gang friendships and risky sexual behavior, specifically the number of sexual partners an individual has had. I argue that gang friendship networks are proxies for risky behavior and this may extend into the realm of sexual health as well. Understanding the effect of friendship may help to explain an individual’s propensities towards risky sexual behavior above and beyond individual level attributes, as friendship has been linked to peer influence. I will examine three main research questions. (1) What is the broad effect of friendship on sexual risk taking among female gang members? (2) How does gang affiliation alter the effect of friendship? and (3) How does the effect of friendship differ based on the strength of the tie? Findings suggest that friendship networks have a strong prediction effect on number of sexual partners amongst gang women in my sample, but varies based on type of friendship and strength of tie. Results suggest that affiliated gang friends increase the likelihood of having more sexual partners, whereas non-affiliated and non-gang friends decrease this likelihood. When disaggregated, the strength of the relationship is significant.