Their Harleys rumble down the street and they arrive in force, their leather jackets decorated with patches.
In a group of 20 to 30 bikers strong, they appear intimidating.
And that’s the point.
The group, known as Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), provides protection to children who need it the most. BACA helps to create a safe environment by putting up a protective barrier around the child.
“We’re a visible force for anyone who thinks they can come by and intimidate the child,” says Grizzly (whose name, like all of BACA’s members, is protected by a riding moniker). “We’re not a vigilante organization but we will protect the child if we need to.”
First established 20 years ago in Provo, Utah, BACA is rapidly growing and has a presence in 12 countries around the world. The organization has to date helped more than 10,000 children worldwide and counting.
“The growth in the organization over the last few years is exponential,” Grizzly says.
BACA’s mid-Island chapter was started in 2013 but Grizzly says there are a lot of people who still don’t know about the group.
To help raise awareness, BACA members will be out in front of Save-On Foods this Saturday, Oct. 23 selling hotdogs and handing out pamphlets and stickers to try and spread the word.
Grizzly says BACA’s sole mission is to empower children who have been abused, by giving them back their voice.
“We give kids their power back,” Grizzly says. “That person has taken their power away, so you’ve got nothing left.”
The first step is to make contact. Working with local agencies such as victim services, BACA helps support abused children simply by being a physical presence.
After a child has been identified and a parent or guardian has given the okay, BACA summons as many of its members as possible – no matter what region they’re from – to meet with the child at his or her home, or another safe location.
Each member gets down to the child’s level, introduces themself and welcomes the child into the biker family.
“The sunglasses come off and the reason is because kids have great intuition; they want to see your eyes,” Grizzly says.
The child is given a special moniker to protect their identity, as well as patches suited to their like and interests, colouring books, stickers and even a warm fuzzy blanket.
The child is also given contact information for two primary contacts that the child can call at anytime.
Grizzly says if a child is scared and too intimidated to come out of the house and meet the family, one or two members will go into the home, if invited, and sit down with the child wherever he or she feels comfortable.
Higher level intervention
If an abuser is not deterred after the initial visit, several BACA members will be sent to the child’s home to create a visual presence.
“In the States, a perpetrator escaped custody and before he had been taken in, he had threatened to kill the family,” Grizzly says. “For three months, BACA was there outside the kid’s house.”
If the member’s physical presence does not deter the abuser, level three intervention come into play and involves a formal letter, written by BACA, explaining that members are prepared to be a physical obstacle preventing the child from further abuse.
BACA members will also attend court hearings, to be a safety blanket for a child who may be asked to testify against his or her abuser.
Reward pays off
Grizzly says he has met many children who are initially terrified of the world around them, but who quickly come out of their shell once they realize they have a team of caring people on their side.
“You see these kids that are so withdrawn and they’re so afraid of the world in which they live. Time and time again, I’ve watched it,” Grizzly says. “One time, there were these two young girls. They were extremely withdrawn and very frightened. They started playing with the bikes and by the time they left, you could see that fear was gone. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Grizzly says stories like that are what keep him going through some really tough and emotional situations.
“It’s very powerful to see the change in the kids,” Grizzly says. “There’s not a single paid member. That is our payday, to see that.”
Breaking the chains
BACA’s mission is to stop child abuse once it occurs and break the cycle.
Grizzly says that one in three children who have been abused will grow up to be an abuser and that 29 per cent of people who have been abused go on to abuse someone else.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is break the chains of abuse,” Grizzly says.
To that end, BACA has welcomed members to the group who were abused as a child but have grown up wanting to make a difference.
BACA is making a difference.
“Where BACA is involved, conviction rates have gone up 75 per cent because the child’s fear of testifying has gone away,” Grizzly says. “We’re standing there to offer them our strength.”
To learn more about BACA, stop by Save-On Foods this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and visit the BACA members who will be out distributing brochures.