The release of the movie "American Me" in 1992 created a firestorm of controversy that resulted in the murder of three of the gang technical advisors employed in making the film. The Mexican Mafia also attempted to extort the star, Edward James Olmos, and subsequently placed Olmos on their infamous hit list.

This violent reaction by the EME to Olmos' movie happened because he completely misunderstood the sexual role of Hispanic gang members in the gang culture. Edward James Olmos was a California surfer in his teenage years, miles away from East Los Angeles gangs. He added and directed the violent sodomy scenes in the film based on his own liberal Hollywood views. Olmos was advised by more than one gang expert that these scenes would be offensive to Hispanic gang members and especially offensive because they fictitiously depicted a character based on revered EME member Cheyenne Cadena being raped in juvenile hall.

White, black, Asian, and Hispanic gang members have long established cultural taboos based on a very male dominated "macho" view of gang and gender roles.

Sex in general is looked upon as a very private thing. And at least overtly, homosexuality is forbidden.

The sexual victimization of either males or females is seen as weakness on the victim's part. The acceptance of death rather than submission is required. No victim of such sexual abuse could ever rise to any position of leadership and respect.

Like adolescent young men anywhere, male gang members will often boast and joke about their sexual conquests. They commonly exaggerate there sexual powers and experiences. This bogus sex talk is often the only sexual education kids growing up in a substitute gang family ever receive until there first sexual experience. Unfortunately this is often with a partner similarly educated.

Growing up in a gang neighborhood as I did, and later working closely with gang members for over 30 years, I was sometimes privy to very personal information about some gang members and their relationships. Based on this, over the years I formed an opinion that many candidates for gang membership and "Youth at Risk" were child victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or both.

This dark secret goes undiagnosed because the victims will not talk about it. As difficult as it is for victims in the American middle class society to divulge this kind of abuse, it is impossible in the gang culture.

I am not trying to make excuses for or diminish the culpability of gang members who participate in sexual assaults, child molestation and gang rapes; I am only giving information and opinions that might assist you in understanding this unspoken secret aspect of the gang culture. Perhaps it might assist in solving a case or two.

The problems of sexual molestation and violence only get worse in juvenile halls, jails, and prisons. This jailhouse male-on-male sex is commonly the subject of crude sexual jokes among incarcerated gang members, but every male gang member knows that he is only permitted to be the "pitcher" and not the "catcher" in this ball game.

The use of pornography and masturbation are considered permissible for in-custody gang members. Sexual encounters with jail "queens" and transvestites are also allowed, but gang members who utilize these vices too often become suspect.

Gang members convicted for sexual assaults, rape, and child molestation face certain death if discovered by most prison gangs. However there are subtle differences in the perception by prison gangs as to what is permissible. In northern California under the Nuestra Famila prison gang, a Norteño gang member is permitted to make his living by "pimping" females as prostitutes. In southern California under the Mexican Mafia prison gang this is forbidden to Sureño gang members.

With very few exceptions in this gang culture, females are seen as sexual objects or toys to be exploited. Check out a Lowrider magazine, a gangsta rap music video, or a reggaeton music video (which is more explicit than gangsta rap) to see what I mean.

For females recruited into a gang the male ritual of the "jump in" may be replaced by the ritual "sexed in," requiring the female to have sex with several or all the gang members. 

Unless a female is protected by association with a male gang member as his "girlfriend," she may become property of the gang. Frequently hanging around with the gang without this protection sometimes leads to assault by one or more of the gang. Regular "gang girls" who party with the gang are sometimes expected to have sex with anyone in the gang.

Even the role of gang member's girlfriend is not that secure. Male gang members are expected to occasionally stray, but the girlfriends are required to remain loyal. This sexual double standard pushes some females in to a more masculine role, becoming "one of the boys" rather than sexual objects and cheerleaders for the gang.

In the gang world the greatest insult a Hispanic gang member can hurl at another gang member is the word "puto" (male prostitute in Spanish). The lines of paint crossing or "Xing" out of rival gang graffiti are called "puto marks." On a few occasions I have known of gang members pulling down the pants and underwear of murder victims as a final insult to their machismo. In one case a dildo was left on the floor next to the body.

All these factors affect young gang members by confusing their sexual development. Some of these gang members become sexual predators. Even among their violent homeboys they are seen as monsters or perverts. However, this is one of those dark secrets that gang members rarely share with non-gang members.


Richard Valdemar
Richard Valdemar

Sergeant (Ret.)

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

View Bio

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

View Bio