The Victoria chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse rumbled up to the city’s courthouse for the first time last week.
Wearing leather jackets emblazoned with patches of a white fist and skull and crossbones on a red background, the bikers can be intimidating. But their goal is to help create a safe environment for an abused child involved in the court process.
“Our sole mission is to empower children not to feel afraid of the world in which they live,” said chapter president Tug, who goes by his road name.
Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) provides moral and physical support to abused children who have to go to court to testify against the person who harmed them.
The organization was started in Utah about 25 years ago by Paul Lilly, a clinical social worker with biker roots who wanted to help empower children in court, Tug said.
Children who have been abused are often too frightened to provide enough evidence for their case to be pursued, says an information brochure about BACA. Lilly found that the presence of the protective bikers could help offset threats made by the abuser, it says.
Tug said BACA comes into contact with the children through referrals. At the first meeting, the child is welcomed into the biker family with a short ceremony.
“We’re old-school bikers. Our code is you look after your own. We turn up when we’re asked to and we show up. Once they are in our chapter, we keep in touch with them by phone,” he said.
“If they start feeling too afraid with court coming up and they can’t sleep, we send a couple of bikers to park outside the house 24-7 while the child is at home. We escort them to school and back to help get rid of that fear so they will testify. Sometimes, the child rides to the courthouse on the back of a bike.”
Last Monday, the bikers escorted a van that was taking a child to the courthouse.
The child, who testified by video to a courtroom outside Victoria, did not want the bikers in the room, so they waited in the hallway and on the courthouse steps.
“It’s all driven by the child,” Tug said. “Even if we can’t be in the courtroom with them, they know that we’re there.”
The group has 20 members in its Victoria chapter and 20 in a mid-Island chapter, he said. The BACA website says there are eight chapters in B.C.
The image that comes to mind for many people when they hear the word “biker” is the Hells Angels.
“But to be a BACA, you have to have a criminal record check done for the vulnerable sector,” Tug said. “You can’t have a criminal record with crimes against women or children.”
To raise awareness of their mission, the group has handed out brochures and business cards at events.
Tug said he has met with staff at the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
A ministry spokesman said: “We are just learning about this U.S.-based organization. What we can say is that in B.C. we all share responsibility for the well-being of children, and we owe it to them to keep childhood safe.
“That’s why if you know of a child who is in immediate danger, you should call police.
“If you think a child or youth under 19 years of age is being abused or neglected, you have the legal duty to report your concern to a child welfare worker. Phone 1-800-663-9122 at any time of the day or night.”