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Corruption, impunity and mistrust: moving beyond police gatekeepers for researching gangs

Ellen Van Damme (Leuven Institute of Criminology, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)

Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research

ISSN: 1759-6599

Article publication date: 5 July 2021

Issue publication date: 24 August 2021




This paper aims to discuss the importance of having several entry points into the field, via gatekeepers who do not belong to law enforcement agencies, in contexts where the police cannot be defined as trustworthy.


The argumentation of this paper is based on qualitative research on women and gangs in Honduras. An ethnographical methodology was implemented, which included over a year of observations, 65 interviews and two focus groups in gang-controlled communities and detention centers in Central America (with a focus on Honduras), between 2017 and 2020. The paper implements a feminist reflexive approach, focusing on patriarchy, positionality and silence.


Collaborating with the police as gatekeepers in gang research needs to be reevaluated. In countries such as Honduras, the police are riddled with corruption and impunity, which eventually leads to mistrust among gang members and other citizens. Hence, it is recommended to approach other, non-law enforcement, gatekeepers, who often stand much closer to the gangs and have a less conflicted or biased position toward them and toward other people living in gang areas.

Research limitations/implications

A feminist reflexive approach is recommended for researching women and gangs, and thus also for choosing the right gatekeepers in the field, taking into account researchers’ and gatekeepers’ positionality.


Police corruption in relation to gangs and gang-related crimes often goes unreported and silences people living in gang-controlled areas. This paper exposes these conflicted roles, not only regarding police abuse vis-à-vis gangs and people living in gang areas but also in relation to gang researchers in the field.



This research was funded by the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO).


Van Damme, E. (2021), "Corruption, impunity and mistrust: moving beyond police gatekeepers for researching gangs", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. 13 No. 2/3, pp. 125-135.



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