Two weeks ago I didn’t know that Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) was a thing, but I instantly loved the concept. I contacted the President of the Alaska chapter and arranged to meet them last Wednesday when he and several other members of the chapter were attending the last rehearsal of Stalking the Bogeyman at UAA. It’s a play based on the true story written by Press contributing editor David Holthouse about the plan he almost carried out to kill the man who raped him when he was seven years old. Before the April 7 performance of the play, representatives from BACA were to make a short presentation about what it is they do for abused kids, so they were attending the rehearsal for practice.
BACA receives referrals from parents or guardians, police or other agencies (like the Office of Children’s Services, or S.T.A.R. here in Anchorage) if a child who has reported abuse remains in fear in their environment. An initial ride is scheduled to meet the child somewhere they feel comfortable, with as many members of the chapter as possible showing up on motorcycles, in full regalia. The child is given their own vest with the BACA patch attached and allowed to choose their own road name, becoming an honorary part of the family. After that, the child gets the phone numbers of the two nearest BACA members, and can call on them at any time he or she feels scared. If asked, they’ll show up. They can also provide an escort, do regular ride-bys, attend court and parole hearings with the child, or stand guard outside the child’s home as long as he or she feels frightened. In some circumstances, this can mean staying outside through the night to make sure the child feels safe enough to sleep.
I showed up at the rehearsal and saw a dozen bikers in full leathers bearing the BACA patch on their backs. Having no idea what the chapter President looked like, I took a deep breath, approached the crowd of bikers and opened with the words, “Excuse me, is there someone here that goes by the name … uh, McDreamy?” All BACA members use their road names in order to help protect the anonymity of everyone involved.
Half a dozen hands pointed at a guy near the front of the line. I walked up and introduced myself, then turned to look at the bikers standing around us. Of course, because Alaska is such a small town, I knew one of them. Her vest said her road name was “Dreamcatcher.” She had been head of security at my very first job, where we’d become friends. She is an Amazon of a woman, and tough. Not the kind of person you would pick to rob on a subway. How serendipitous that she should appear out of my past on that evening.
When the doors opened, we settled into two rows on the right side of the theater; McDreamy on my right and Dreamcatcher on my left. I was not looking forward to the play. Within just a few minutes though, I realized exactly what it is that BACA has to offer. I didn’t want to be seeing what I was seeing, but sitting with that crowd of tough guys and gals around me, it was OK. I had backup.
The play was in part designed to start a conversation that Alaska especially—consistently among the highest in rates of child abuse in the country—needs to have. To facilitate that process, there was an after-performance discussion as a chance for the actors to decompress and for us to see them as regular human beings again, and for all of us to dissolve the illusion we’d just been a part of.
People asked questions and made comments on the performances put on by the actors. Soon though, someone sitting on the opposite side of the theater asked what others were wondering; why there were a dozen bikers in attendance.
McDreamy got up to stand in front of the set and explain BACA; that they exist to give empowerment and choice back to a child who’s had those things robbed from them. Immediately people chimed in saying how grateful they were to hear that BACA was around and how desperately our community needs their help. The last comment came from a lady sitting in the first row. She turned in her seat and repeated those sentiments, then finished with, “Where were you when my daughter needed you?”
I felt the room freeze while everyone absorbed what that meant. “We’re here now,” came from Dreamcatcher next to me. The painful tension disappeared. What was left felt steady and certain. It would be OK.
Sunday I sat with McDreamy, their child liaison officer Fun Size, and a gentleman whose title I assume is something like chief intimidator—Papa Bear, to learn more about BACA.
If you were contacted by a parent and they were interested in bringing you into their child’s life, what’s the summary you’d give them to explain BACA?
McDreamy: I’d say that we’re here to empower their child, to be there for him or her, but only if they ask us to be part of this kid’s life and they want us involved. We’re not here to go after the person that hurt the kid, first and foremost. From there we’d just try to answer any questions or concerns they may have.
What concerns do you typically hear?
Fun Size: Most of the parents that reach out to us are so desperate for our help they don’t really have many. But sometimes they ask if we’ll be carrying firearms, and that answer depends on what they’re comfortable with. If a firearm or a knife could be a trigger for a kid, we make sure not to have them on us.
Tell me about the process for a newly referred kid. McDreamy mentioned the night of the play that you, as the child liaison, are the only person who knows what happened to that child.
FS: That’s correct, it’s for that child’s protection. I ask a series of questions about the case; I let them share as much as they want to. I need their case number; it has to have been reported for us to take the case. I need to know if the perpetrator in jail, if they live nearby, if the child or the family is being harassed by the perpetrator or his/her family, if there will be court proceedings, what the kid’s triggers are, what scares them, what are their fears, how do they express that fear.
You’ve mentioned triggers a couple of times. I am guessing that can make or break a meeting with a child.
FS: Yes. Triggers can be anything from the type of cologne someone is wearing, whether or not they smoke cigarettes, how someone has their hair cut, wearing a baseball hat, looking like him [she gestures at Papa Bear] or looking like him, clean cut [gesturing at McDreamy], the type of voice someone has, wearing sunglasses, if you spit when you talk, songs, smells, almost anything. Depending on the type of abuse it could be, maybe they’re not comfortable with men. In those cases our brothers will still ride out, but they will not approach the child. They just hang back to protect and support that child and be the obstacle, but they will not approach that child unless the child initiates the interaction.
Papa Bear: To me, to watch a child go from when you’re first meeting with them and they’re standing far away from you and not wanting anything to do with you, not even looking at you, but by the end of our visit them wanting to embrace you, to sit there chattering your ear off, not wanting you to leave, that’s so rewarding. In most of the situations, by the time we leave that’s what’s happening. They feel secure, happy and they want us to come back soon. That’s what makes it worth it to me.
I was not looking forward to being at that play at all. David is someone I know, and that made it even harder to watch. But I noticed that with you guys being there and all sitting around me, I just felt better.
MD: You were sitting right in the middle of us and to kind of put it in perspective for you. Imagine instead being in a courtroom and facing the perpetrator that had hurt you. And think of how you felt with us around you. That’s what we do for those kids.
In a story about another BACA chapter that I read, they mentioned one of the rules is that you cannot cry, cannot get emotional in front of the kids. It seems like you guys run into a lot of sad, really scary situations. How do you handle that?
MD: Debriefing, destressing after each ride is something we always do. Go on a ride, get something to eat, stand around and talk about it—just something. As you heard in the talk after the play, those kids frequently cannot leave their situation. So when we meet a kid, we don’t know exactly what happened, but we know something happened and we see how it affects that kid, and that in turn affects us. But we cannot express that around the kids. He might look pretty intimidating now [gesturing at Papa Bear] but imagine what he looks like with tears in his eyes. It defeats the purpose. We’re here to let that kid know that they don’t have to be scared of anything, period. There’s no need for them to be afraid.
PB: It’s about breaking those chains of abuse. It’s about stepping in and letting that child know that what happened to them wasn’t right and there are people out there who stand with them and will help them.
MD: One of the things that needs to happen—it’s what David did and this play is doing—is bringing to light these situations. Kids even at the younger ages need to know what is OK and what is not OK coming from adults in their lives. People in this world need to know that this shit goes on. A close person in my life growing up had this happen to them in their household, and they tried to speak up and no one would believe them. Perpetrators are good at what they do. They’re good at intimidating. They seem to have split personalities. They can be awesome around other people but behind closed doors are truly horrible. More people need to be aware of what to look for.
FS: The most important thing we do is to give them back choice. We let them talk about themselves, we let them choose whether or not they’re interested in being a part of our family. We do not make them no accept us matter how much we think they need us. They do not have to welcome us, it’s their choice. They choose what patch goes on their vest, what their road name is going to be. They get to choose if we visit again to introduce them to all the brothers and sisters. They choose what we do during our visits. Do we jump rope or play soccer or …
MD: Let them color our hair pink.
FS: [Smiling] That one was awesome. That could have been one of our greatest success stories. When we first arrived, she had put a “Hi, Welcome” sign up in the house for us because she was afraid to talk to us and that was the best she could do. We came in and stood around and gave her a chance to talk. Then the guys went to do a walk around the house and us girls took her out to look at the motorcycles, and when it was time for us to wrap things up, she chose to ask the guys to stay outside while the girls came back in. Which means that she felt comfortable to ask for what she needed.
MD: This particular child did not want to be around men at all at the beginning. And we went from that, to her being comfortable running around playing soccer with men, to physically putting her hands on men to color their hair and beards pink.
What’s surprising me most since meeting you guys is that you’re so ... busy.
PB: We haven’t even started yet. We have barely scratched the surface. That’s the sad thing. Once the word gets out about who we are and what we do, we’re not going to have nearly enough people. The statistics here in Alaska are so overwhelming, between neglect to sexual abuse to physical abuse—it’s insane. We’re riding every weekend. I didn’t even get my fishing rod out last year. Lifelong Alaskan and I didn’t get to go fishing once.
You guys are in a unique position in that people are often inherently scared of you, and that what makes you so effective.
PB: Yep. What’s scarier than a group of bikers?
MD: That’s part of where we came from. The founder of our organization grew up around bikes and clubs as a kid and remembered what it did for him when he was being bullied. Later in life he became a Child Play Therapist and saw what was happening to the kids he worked with in between the time he was with them and the times the cops could be there. He’d see those kids again after a week and they’d have regressed substantially. So he thought about his experience with bikers and he started what we are now. We fill the gap between therapy and home life and the cops not being able to be there all the time. A restraining order is just a piece of paper to someone who isn’t a law abiding citizen already. If the cops can’t be there right away, and that kid needs us, we can sit on a house 24/7 for a day, two days, for a week—whatever it takes.
How frequently does that happen, that you’re staying overnight somewhere?
MD: Not that frequently because generally the perpetrator stops coming around once they see us, so it’s not all the time but it has happened, and it can happen, and we have to be prepared for that from the minute we get the call. In the Lower 48 they had a day and night stay for 28 days in a row. They were in a place where they had a huge chapter that we don’t have here. We do have some brothers and sisters in Kenai that can come up if they’re needed, but if we put out the call I guarantee folks from the Lower 48 would be using their airline miles to get up here.
PB: It’s strength in numbers. They might be able to go through me, but they will not get through the 20 people behind me.
For more information about Bikers Against Child Abuse, you can visit their webpage at http://alaska.bacaworld.org/. If you know a child who’s suffered abuse and could benefit from some very tough older brothers and sisters, you can reach B.A.C.A at 907-885-4357. If you’d like to donate to donate to the cause, you can do so here http://bacaworld.org/merchandise/