Bikers Against Child Abuse riders may look gruff on the outside with their tattoos and leather jackets, but the caring bikers help empower abused children. They use road names for safety and are there for the kids 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We’re there so that an abused child who is afraid can live the life that a normal kid should have. And we do that just by showing up,” said Woodstock, BACA member and treasurer of the Maricopa County chapter. “It’s amazing how much showing up for a child who’s been abused and been disappointed by adults their whole lives — it’s amazing how much showing up really does empower a child.”
The process starts when an abused child’s guardian calls the BACA Arizona Helpline. A child liaison returns the call to discuss the child’s situation. Woodstock said the trained child liaison knows the specifics about the child’s situation, while the other members only know that he or she needs their help.
From there, if BACA board members deem this is a child they can help, the organization does a level one interaction, which is its first visit to invite the child to be part of the organization. Turtle, who lives near Bell Road and is vice president of the Black Canyon BACA chapter, said it’s a great moment and a spectacle to see.
“This is the first interaction with the child where we will actually set up a time where the whole chapter can ride out and meet that child for the first time,” Turtle said. “And when we ride in, it’s kind of an occasion. Then we initiate them by giving them a cut to make them feel like they have that biker family.”
The “cut” is a vest with a BACA patch on it, which the kids can choose whether or not to wear. The child is then assigned two primaries, those who are the main point of contact and do routine checks and visits to ensure the child’s safety and work toward removing fear from his or her life.
BACA also goes to court with the kids, to provide support for the child during a stressful time. And, while the organization does not condone violence, its mission states that “if circumstances arise such that we are the only obstacle preventing a child from further abuse, we stand ready to be that obstacle.”
“That biker mentality of family comes into place where we don’t have to be blood to be family,” Turtle said. “We are always there for one another. And that reputation as a biker definitely helps us in the case of the perp, but it also helps us with the kids because when they get to know us, they know we’re just teddy bears. But they know we’re teddy bears that are going to do anything to protect them.”
Being a biker isn’t a free pass to join the group, though, and Turtle said there is an extensive process to become a primary. After attending three group meetings, those interested in being a primary undergo a background check. Once the background check has cleared, the person will become eligible to start the “supporter” process and serve in that role for over a year to learn policies and procedures. After that time, and if approved by the board, the person will be promoted to full membership status and an honored primary.
The organization was founded in 1995 and now covers 48 states and 22 countries. Woodstock said the organization is growing strong, but the problem is increasing even faster. He said the latest studies show there were more than 51,000 cases of child abuse in Arizona annually.
Both Turtle and Woodstock said they have seen the positive impact BACA can have for the kids. While they admitted the kids are sometimes a little intimidated at first, they always open up and seem to feel more confident.
“When we do the level one interaction and we roll in, we wake up the neighborhood,” Woodstock said. “We’re parking all these bikes in front of the child’s house and sometimes the child will be hiding behind mom. After a few minutes, though, that child will come around after we introduce ourselves. Pretty soon, they’re walking up and down the street looking at the motorcycles with us.”
Turtle said adults have repeatedly disappointed these kids. Being a reliable constant in the kids’ life is a huge part of making them feel safe. He said the primaries try to be available at any time, whether it’s responding to a text or showing up in person.
“We always tell the kids that they can reach out to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Turtle said. “We’ve had kids call us at 1 a.m. just to see if we will answer the phone and if we can talk them through some of their nightmares. If we need to, the primaries will do a little drive by, rev the motors up and just let the child know that we are always available for them.”