If you plan on cruising down PCH on Sunday May 21st, you may find yourself suddenly eating the dust of dozens of leather clad, patched up bikers riding shoulder to shoulder along the Orange County Coastline. Their mission: to bring protection, awareness, and advocacy to abused children in Orange County.
Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA for short) identifies as a body of bikers who empower abused children not to live in fear of the world in which they live. Founded in 1995 by a Utah biker-turned-therapist named Chief, BACA has grown from a small crew to an international organization with dedicated volunteer members in 46 states and 13 countries, working to protect child victims of abuse.
The Orange County chapter started in 2014 after an alarming increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse. “[In 2014] Orange County alone had 46,000 reports of child abuse and in 2015 they went up to 53,000,” says Fester, local biker and vice president of BACA’s Orange County chapter. “There was a need for us in Orange County.”
The connection between bikers, child survivors, and recovery isn’t as much of a stretch as it may seem. Since abused children often feel scared and alone, providing them with a tough looking, trustworthy and accessible support system can be transformational in the way they are able to recover from trauma and fear, and if necessary, participate in legal proceedings.
When BACA responds to a report of child abuse, their primary concern is creating a bond to restore the child’s feeling of safety, filling what they perceive is a gap in a system that is packed, overworked, and underfunded. “Our chapter and surrounding chapters come together [to] bring [the] child into our family,” Fester explains, noting how new kids get their own biker vest, road name, blanket and teddy bear. “Before we give them the teddy bear we all hug it, every single person that’s there, we hug it and we fill it with encouragement, sweet dreams, hope, love, anything encouraging for the child. We tell them, if your bear ever runs out of hugs, you call us we’ll come back and fill it up.”
Each kid gets phone numbers of two bikers they can call anytime for any reason. “If a child calls us at 2a.m. and says ‘I just had a bad dream, I’m scared!’ We end up talking to them about it and re-encourage that they’re ok.” If a child feels threatened or is being harassed, a “Level 2” is broadcast to the entire chapter, setting up 24/7 biker security detail at the child’s home. California chapters have responded to calls as short as a few days, and as long as 7 weeks. “If it requires us to take the child to school, we take the child to school, if the kid wants to go to the mall, we take them to the mall, wherever the child needs to go, we are with that child. That way, nobody can intimidate [them].”
Bikers will also escort child survivors to court, driving them to courthouses on motorcycles, surrounding the survivor and their families so they feel protected in the presence of the perpetrator. “We actually go in with the child when they have to testify, because [often] the defense attorney will subpoena everyone who is with the child, [leaving just] the child, maybe a court advocate, the detective, and the lawyer. A lot of times the child is scared and might not want to do it alone.”
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Some OC residents have misperceived BACA because of their biker aesthetics. “A lot of the time parents are more afraid of us than children,” Fester says, mentioning that kids are drawn to the bikers because they look cool, and that their tough exterior can be empowering in the presence of an attacker. In addition to the hands on work BACA does, they provide informational and professional resources, such as funding for therapy and activities like karate, swimming, or horseback riding.
This weekend's 100 Mile Ride will stretch from San Juan Capistrano, to Long Beach, all the way to Cooks Corner in Trabuco Canyon. Orange County will be in good company, with chapters riding all over the US and internationally in locations like Reno, Australia, and Canada.
“It’s pretty heartwarming you know,” says Fester reflecting on two years of working as a youth advocate. “Knowing I’m helping these little abused heroes, and seeing their smile on their face again, and knowing they can go out and play like a kid and not be afraid of the world keeps me doing it, I can’t see myself stopping.”
For more information call the OC B.A.C.A hot line at 714-988-2408 or go to bacaworld.org.