By Laurie A. Kaiser
Her mother’s boyfriend has been arrested for sexually abusing her, but the 9-year-old is still scared. Will he hurt her for telling? Will he hurt her mom?
Then one day her street is filled with the roar of motors. Bikers in black leather and chains, with tattoos wrapped around their meaty arms, descend upon her house. They look intimidating, but these men and women are here to help.
|If you would like to find out more about Bikers Against Child Abuse and how you can help, call 846-4256 or visit www.bacausa.com.|
The cycle-straddling members of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) have “adopted” close to 100 San Antonio children ages 3 to 17 during the past five years, according to local chapter President Julio Guanche, who goes by the road name Shrek. Almost all of them have been sexually abused. About 60 percent are female.
Each child is paired with two nearby BACA buddies she can call on any time she feels afraid. “We want them to see they are under our protection, that they don’t have to be afraid anymore,” says Guanche, who wears Shrek ears and gives out gummy worms to help break the ice with new children.
BACA members attend court proceedings and parole hearings with abuse victims, and escort children to and from school and on errands. They also step in if an abuser starts making threats, which often happens before a case goes to court.
“The police can’t sit in front of the house all day, so we do,” says Guanche, who works as an inspector at the San Antonio Toyota plant.
Not Someone Else’s Problem
Around the time he turned 40, Guanche got his first motorcycle, a Honda Ace. A year or so later a co-worker told him about BACA.
The group’s motto – Breaking the Chains of Child Abuse – clicked with Guanche.
“I saw something needed to be done about all the abuse going on here,” he says. “I didn’t just want to stand on the sidelines and let it be someone else’s problem.”
He now spends most of his free time on BACA-related business. The younger of his two sons, now 14, accompanies Guanche to many of the events.
The international organization was founded in 1995 by John Paul Lilly, a Utah social worker frustrated with the limits of the child welfare system. BACA now boasts 110 chapters in 30 states, plus four in Australia. While internationally the group serves victims of all kinds of abuse, in San Antonio, 99 percent of the kids have been sexually abused.
ChildSafe, a local advocacy organization for child sexual abuse victims, refers kids to BACA – especially if there is a risk of threats against the family. “BACA doesn’t just adopt the child,” says Michelle Orta, ChildSafe’s client services director. “They adopt the whole family.”
All Walks of Life
The 30-some members of BACA and the children it takes into its fold are given road names – Gator, Glowman and Smiley –to protect the identity of kids whose cases are still pending in court and to add a light element to a serious endeavor.
Members come from all walks of life.
“We have computer geeks, aircraft mechanics, nurses and housewives,” Guanche says. About 20 percent are female, including Guanche’s wife, Jackie.
Potential members – who are required to attend at least 80 percent of BACA events – must pass an extensive criminal background check and must have ridden a motorcycle for a year. To further protect the children they adopt, BACA does not allow any one member to be alone with a child.
‘We’re Like Family’
BACA relies on donations to pay for events, plus the vests, patches and teddy bears they give the children. And while its mission is serious, the group also has a family feel. A bond develops between the children and bikers, who often bring their own kids to adoption rides and BACA events. “It puts the child (being adopted into the group) at ease,” says Guanche. “When they see other kids there, they don’t feel so weird.”
The group holds a summer pool party, an annual picnic and a Christmas party for its adopted children and their families.
A day of hanging out with the bikers and their kids often changes a child’s demeanor, Guanche notes. They put their fear aside. Instead of keeping their eyes to the ground and their voices silent, they begin laughing and running around, he says. “It’s a chance for them just to be kids.”
Laurie A. Kaiser is the former editor of Our Kids.
First published July 2007 in Our Kids San Antonio.