A "brutal underworld" in which girls in gangs are raped, sexually exploited, and used to smuggle drugs and weapons in prams has been exposed in a report by a leading think-tank.

According to the report, by the Centre for Social Justice, girls in gangs lead "desperate lives" in which "rape is used as a weapon and carrying drugs and guns is seen as normal".

It describes cases of girls being forced to have sex with boys as young as 10 as part of gang initiation rites, being sexually assaulted by groups of men for being part of a rival gang or criticising a gang member, and being used to transport drugs and weapons to evade police stop and search procedures.

The Centre for Social Justice said the "daily suffering" of thousands of women and girls "goes largely unnoticed".

The report's authors advocate placing more social workers in some hospital emergency units to help girls believed to be victims of gang violence, and providing more support to help women free themselves from gangs when their boyfriends or husbands are arrested.

The study was conducted by the CSJ with London youth charity XLP, and former and current gang members, government agencies and voluntary agencies were all interviewed.

Many become involved in gangs, it says, as a result of the breakdown of families.

It suggests that schools ignore gang activity among pupils in order to protect their reputations, and that gang activity had a detrimental effect on girls' education.

One headteacher told the study: "We can't compete with the attraction of fast cars, sex and drugs."

The fact that 95% of all those stopped and searched by police are men, the report suggested, is actually encouraging gang members to use girls to carry drugs and weapons. It urges police to review the way stop and search is conducted.

The study emphasised that the extent of the problem is unknown, but thousands are believed to be victims, and said that not enough had been done by the government to tackle gang culture in the wake of the 2011 riots.

It called for more research into the problem, and for long-term solutions to be explored.