SOUTHERN UTAH — Tatted up, wearing leather, headbands and heavy boots; some bearded, burly and looking scary. When dozens of these unruly looking bikers ride into a neighborhood rattling windows with the deafening roar of their bikes, the sight can be overwhelming.
For some people, it can be downright terrifying. For Bikers Against Child Abuse, that’s the point.
With only a moment’s notice 365 days a year, from physically shielding an abused child to supporting them in court, BACA always have your kid’s back.
Seen rolling through town every Christmas in elf and Santa hats with gifts from KONY’s “Coins for Kids” annual charity, BACA’s group of fearsome and intimidating riders have one sole purpose – to empower children who have been victims of abuse to no longer be afraid of the world they live in.
Founded in Utah by Provo child therapist and biker JP Lilly in 1995, BACA provides safety, comfort, support and assistance to children who have been the victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. After seeing the way his patients would light up with joy at the mere sight of a biker, he gathered a small group of his intimidating friends and rolled out to help.
Recent statistics about sexual violence show 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
St. George chapter member “Shots” was just 25 years old when a few BACA members came into his work and described what the group does to empower the most vulnerable of our society. Intrigued, he thought it might be a fun excuse to get out with some friends and ride his Harley. He told St. George News he had no clue what he was in for.
Before any prospective member will be considered for membership, they must ride with the group for a year to ensure they are a good fit for the chapter. A person doesn’t have to be perfect – an empathetic heart the biggest requirement – but for safety, everyone is fingerprinted and must undergo a thorough background check by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Those with a history of violence, child or spousal abuse or child support issues are automatically rejected.
After extensive training, many rides and monthly meetings, and a complete vetting by BACA security, Shots was ready to lend a hand. Now 14 years later, he said he wouldn’t change a thing.
Shots said nothing can compare with the feeling he gets when he realizes that an abused child is no longer afraid. On his very first intervention he overheard a mother with tears in her eyes say to one of their members, “This is the first time she has smiled in months.”
BACA works hand-in-hand with local government agencies and community organizations. If a parent, family member or friend suspects a child has been a victim of abuse, the first step is to make a report to police, then reach out to their local chapter for help. A liaison will be assigned to evaluate the situation and, if needed, the whole chapter is called out to take on the case.
For BACA and their kids, everything they do is symbolic, from the first time they meet with a child, down to the logo sewn with pride across their backs. On the logo, red represents blood shed by wounded children and the white is their innocence, black is for the dark times a child goes through and the fist is their commitment to stop abuse at any cost. The chains symbolize the united organization of all volunteers; there are chapters in 48 states, including eight in Utah, and 17 countries. Finally, the haunting skull and crossbones stands for “death to child abuse.”
The first time the entire chapter rides in to visit with a child in a spectacle of chrome and force is known as a “Level 1” intervention. At this powerful and important ceremony, the child meets its two primary BACA contacts – members who will follow up with the family on regular basis – and marks the beginning of a better future and the last time that child ever faces pain alone.
Now a member of the family, they are given their own “cut,” a vest with the BACA patch, and a “road name” – that is, a nickname – like other members in order to protect their identity.
“This really makes the child feel part of the group,” Shots said.
Often they receive temporary tattoos, backpacks, coloring books and pictures, but most importantly, each child is given a BACA teddy bear imbued with the hugs and unending love of each member in case they ever get scared again. If the bear ever falls empty, all it takes is a phone call and the entire chapter arrives to fill it right back up.
Unfortunately, in extreme circumstances that still isn’t quite enough protection to relieve a child’s fear and a “Level 2” intervention is required. The word goes out to the BACA nation and a literal shield of protection is deployed. Shots said bikes and bodies surround the child’s home and remain until the threat is gone and the child feels safe again.
“By the sound of the pipes echoing through the entire neighborhood everyone knows that child is now with them,” Shots said. “If you hear a bike rolling through your town late at night, it just might be BACA watching out.”
Going to court – no child deserves to live in fear
Imagine being an 8-year-old child walking into an enormous room with long benches, oddly dressed strangers, men with guns and the person who did the worst thing you have ever felt sitting right across the aisle. Attending court can be emotional even for adults, but for kids it can be especially traumatic and the moment when the strength of their BACA bears comes to life.
Shots said that for many members the toughest part of their mission is attending court and hearing the horrific details of the abuse a child has suffered. A child cannot help being afraid of confronting their abuser but BACA has seen firsthand kids handle the difficulty better knowing their new family is bigger and badder than any monster they may face.
BACA members will escort the child to the courthouse and prior to them walking in will say, “Don’t look at him or her, tell the truth and don’t leave anything out – we are here and got your back,” he said. That comforts the child and lets them tell how awful their abuse was without hesitation.
“We help them gain the courage and self-esteem so they can go to court and tell their story and maybe more importantly to let the child know it wasn’t their fault,” he said.
See something, scream something
If abuse of any kind is discovered it must be reported to police immediately. BACA reminds parents that for your child’s sake, safety and future don’t brush it under the rug or try to hide it. Often children will need extra help and therapy to recover from the trauma they’ve endured.
“If you are being abused, tell. If someone is hurting you or doing something to you that might feel creepy, wrong, and that person tells you do not tell anyone, tell,” Shots said. “There is no chance of the abuse stopping if you don’t tell someone; find an adult that you trust and tell them and report it to the police. If you are scared, have your parent or guardian call us. We will do whatever we possibly can to protect you from further abuse. If you are getting abused and we get a call from your parent or guardian, we will show up for you.”
Shots said chapter members like to speak at school assemblies about abuse and ways children can reach out if they are afraid. They cover topics such as “good touch,” “bad touch” and “secret touch” and let the kids see how much each biker is willing and ready to help.
BACA is a nonprofit organization and exists solely on volunteerism, donations and sometimes even money out of the bikers own pockets to keep the mission going. Each chapter usually has merchandise like belt buckles, hats, puzzles and more that they give away in exchange for help from the public but this September, the St. George chapter will be giving away a 2018 Harley-Davidson Road King.
The bike, partially donated by Beers Harley-Davidson of Vernal, will be given away at the “Keepers of the Children” bike rally to be held at the Virgin River Casino in Mesquite, Nevada, on Sept. 28. All money raised at the rally with help pay for therapy that some kids desperately need. With a $10 donation to BACA, everyone has a chance to help and ride away with a hog of their own.
No one is immune to child abuse and its damaging effects and “Fender,” “Twist,” “Tazz,” Shots and every member of the St. George chapter meet once a month committed to ending its scourge in our community. They are always ready and available 24 hours a day, whenever a child is in fear.
“Knowing that I was part of the light that pierced a child’s darkness – there is no going back to life without BACA for me,” Shots said.
- BACA International Helpline – (All other areas) 1-866-71-ABUSE (1-866-712-2873).
- Color Country Chapter Helpline – (Cedar City and surrounding) 435-559-4505.
- St. George Chapter – (Washington County and surrounding) 435-673-2564.
- “Shots,” public relations officer, Bikers Against Child Abuse, St. George, email firstname.lastname@example.org..
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.