By Tiffany Tan, Bennington Banner
BENNINGTON — A motorcycle organization is on a mission to make the world safer for victims of child abuse.
Members will stand guard outside a child’s home whenever they’re called, accompany the child for court appearances and be reachable to the child by phone 24/7. The child also receives a vest with the organization’s patch: a fist stamped with “BACA,” which stands for Bikers Against Child Abuse.
“Our whole mission is to make sure they are not afraid,” the president of BACA’s Vermont chapter, a woman who goes by the biker name Irish, said in a presentation at the Bennington Fire Facility Wednesday afternoon.
The nonprofit organization aims to empower victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse — who are between 3 and 18 years old — by providing them with physical and emotional support. Members are all volunteers who apparently had to undergo background checks; anyone with an offense involving children or domestic abuse is barred from joining.
Founded in Provo, Utah, in 1995 by a licensed clinical social worker, BACA now has chapters in all but three states as well as overseas. They are funded through donations.
“Anywhere in the world a BACA kid goes, there is someone there to help,” Irish told an audience of around 25 people working with children, including representatives of the state Department for Children and Families, the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office, Bennington Police Department, other nonprofits and school counselors.
She said BACA’s capability to stand guard outside the home of a child who has expressed fear “fills a gap” in service that law enforcement, social workers or counselors don’t provide.
BACA members don’t give out their real names as a safety precaution, given the group’s work, Irish said. But they will provide their real names if the authorities ask, such as police, court officers and social workers.
BACA enters the life of a child when parents or guardians ask for its support — and the organization receives official documentation that the child is involved in an abuse case. But the decision whether to accept BACA’s support ultimately rests with the child, Irish said.
Members don’t call children by their real name, but rather give them a “road name,” Irish said, citing examples like Gremlin, Transformers and Snoozer.
One of four other BACA members present, called Ripley, said they don’t ask children for details about their case. If they want to talk, the bikers will encourage them to speak with their guardians or a trained professional. And members exchange numbers with a child only with the permission of parents or guardians.
The organization has been working in Bennington since 2018, and members have shown up in criminal court to support child victims who were testifying before a jury.
“Even if the outcome is not what we hope,” Irish said, “when the child feels strong enough to tell their truth, that’s a win for us.”
Sometimes, Irish said, a judge doesn’t allow members to enter the courtroom dressed in BACA attire such as in a Bennington County case. She declined to comment when asked if she was referring to a case involving Joshua Boyer, a Bennington man accused of child sexual and physical abuse.
On Feb. 4, the Bennington Superior criminal court ordered that when Boyer is retried, courtroom spectators including BACA members won’t be allowed to wear logos, buttons or insignia that could influence the jury. Boyer’s initial trial, held in November, ended in a mistrial after a dismissed member of the jury came back to tell the court that BACA members’ identifiable presence in the courtroom influenced some jurors.
Irish declined to say how many members they have in Vermont or how many cases the chapter is handling, just that they are helping children throughout the state.
BACA’s two Bennington presentations on Wednesday, including one later in the afternoon, were the first of their kind in town. The events were organized by the Bennington County Child Advocacy Center, which assists children who have suffered abuse and wanted the local community to learn more about BACA’s work.
Joy Kitchell, the center’s executive director, said BACA’s mission to empower abused children and to help them heal is “wonderful.”
Contact Tiffany Tan at firstname.lastname@example.org, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.