Being abused can leave a child feeling alone and very small in the middle of some very big feelings and events.
Bikers Against Child Abuse, an international group with a 501c3 nonprofit status in the U.S., aims to give those children something to hang on to that is bigger than the fear.
Jeff Kerr, road name Duke, and Lisa Crouss, Gummibear, gave a B.A.C.A. presentation to one of Diogenes Ayala’s criminal justice classes Monday at Southwestern Community College.
Part of the power of B.A.C.A. is the fierce family connection that bikers have within their community. When a child in need is identified and the family accepts help from B.A.C.A, the child becomes a member of that family, receiving a jacket with a patch just like the bikers and the support of the entire international organization.
No other organization in the world focuses on the child to the extent that B.A.C.A does, Duke said.
“We are narrow and focused on those children,” Duke said.
Law enforcement officials can only do so much to protect a child and, just as importantly, make them feel safe.
While B.A.C.A operates lawfully, their mission allows them to go a little farther, becoming a “presence” in the child’s life that can deter a perpetrator from approaching the child.
Once the contact is made, the child is assigned two primaries who dedicate their time to provide what the child needs to feel safe. That may be via a phone call in the middle of the night. It might be a ride on a motorcycle. It could be a group of 20 or more bikers who show up a the child’s home or at their court date.
“We roll in and we’re loud and noisy,” Duke said. “It’s amazing to see those kids as we roll up and they realize ... The shock and awe is tremendous.”
It has even been bikers camping out on the lawn of a child who is being threatened by their abuser. When a call goes out that one of “their” children is being threatened, B.A.C.A shows up.
“They will lay their life down for that child,” Duke said of a recent event where a child was being threatened and bikers showed up from all across the country. “It doesn’t matter if they’re in Arizona and I’m in Iowa, if I can go, I go.”
“One of the most powerful things we do is to attend court with our kids,” Duke said.
B.A.C.A members focus on the child when in the courtroom. They don’t look at the jury, the lawyers, the judge, or the perpetrator. Only the child.
Duke said by the time a B.A.C.A member goes to court with a child, they don’t necessarily have to wear any identifying patches for the child to know who they are and feel their presence. Sometimes a judge will not allow B.A.C.A patches or references in the courtroom. For one of Duke’s “kiddos” that was the case, so all of the bikers wore red — the child’s favorite color.
B.A.C.A members aren’t required to be present in court. For some that is too difficult.
“You hear things you don’t ever want to hear,” Duke said.
But they do have strict rules for members who are in court.
“You don’t leave, ever,” Duke said. “Imagine what that would feel like to a child. One more adult who left them.”
It is not easy to become a member of B.A.C.A. First, an applicant has to be a biker. The B.A.C.A website describes this as “a person must have regular access to a motorcycle that will do the speed limit.” Then they must submit to a background check with fingerprints. After a year of attending meetings as a supporter, an applicant must be voted in unanimously by their chapter.
Having a “rap sheet” doesn’t disqualify a biker from becoming a B.A.C.A member, Duke said, unless it contains child abuse.
“It’s not about what they’ve done in the past; it’s about what you’ve done to improve your life and move forward to help others.” he said.
In order to safe guard the children involved, B.A.C.A also has a rule that no member will ever be alone with a child. That is why they work in pairs. As much as possible, those pairs include a male and a female member, but sometimes a child who has been abused isn’t comfortable with a male, if their abuser was male, so it could be two females.
The motorcycle world does not always treat females with respect, but that is one major difference in B.A.C.A, Duke said.
“We need our females and they need us,” he said. “We work hand in hand.”
A member of B.A.C.A who does not live up to the promise of protecting children will be asked to leave “not nicely,” Duke said.
“There’s no warnings,” he said. “They’re out.”
He called it “put out bad” and said the person would lose their “patch” and would be banned from ever being a part of B.A.C.A again.
A four-year independent study published in the “International Journal of Evaluation and Program Planning” showed that B.A.C.A. is effective in its mission to make children feel safe after abuse. Improved self confidence, less negative behavior, a greater ability to communicate, a sense of belonging and being empowered to testify on their own behalf were some of the benefits of the program.
“One we did not long ago, the mom said she hadn’t seen her child smile for months,” Gummibear said. “When we left, she had a smile on her face.”
Duke also explained that abused children sometimes go on to become abusers as adults.
“If we can break those chains ... by empowering the child, we’ve done our job,” he said.
For more information on B.A.C.A or to refer a child in need, call the helpline at 515-789-0101 or visit B.A.C.Aworld.org.