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Bikers Against Child Abuse helps young local victims heal

From left, local BACA members “Lugnut,” “Raja” “Tat” and “Bull” huddle after a weekend interview at a Hudson restaurant. (Hudson Star-Observer photos by Chuck Nowlen)1 / 2
“Lugnut” displays the patch and motto on the backs of all BACA members’ jackets.2 / 2

When his telephone rings at 2 a.m. and it’s one of the abused kids he watches over, biker “Bull” is on it -- like that.

“It’s about the children, whatever it takes, 24/7,” notes Bull, who lives “within 15 minutes” of Hudson and is vice president of the Minnesota Chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse which also covers Western Wisconsin.

Child abuse is a crime of dominance, violation and fear, and the nightmare can linger for victims long after their abusers have been arrested and charged.

Court proceedings can be particularly stressful for abused youngsters, especially when they’re required to testify, Bull and three other local BACA members -- “Raja,” “Tat” and “Lugnut” -- explain in a weekend interview at a Hudson restaurant.

For the children, knowing they always have their own personal team of tough, supportive biker buddies nearby can make all the difference in the world.

“So, if one of our kids calls, we’ll go over to their house and stay in the driveway all night if they’re really scared,” says Bull, who has four kids of his own with his wife Raja, secretary of the Minnesota BACA chapter.

“We’ll escort them to and from court. We’ll sit with them in court. Many times, the child has to sit out in the hallway with the perp, waiting to testify. Our being there makes them feel safer.

“We also provide counseling and other help, and just make sure we’re there for them at all times if they need us. Basically, we empower these kids not to be afraid of the world in which they live.”

As the patches on BACA members’ motorcycle jackets assert: “No child deserves to live in fear.”

Recent national statistics show that one in four girls is sexually abused by age 18. So is one in five boys.

BACA members guard their young charges’ identities like pit bulls, as well as their own. Members’ names are not allowed in newspaper stories about them -- only their club road names. No occupations or hometowns, either. They won’t allow photos with their own kids.

“Perpetrators will do anything sometimes,” Bull notes. “They’re desperate.”

BACA has been part of several St. Croix County cases, most recently the prosecution of accused sex abuser Daniel Barber. Barber pleaded not guilty June 10 to eight counts of felony child sex assault and six counts of possessing child pornography.

BACA members have attended every Barber court proceeding so far. They’ll continue to be there until the case ends -- and, as necessary, beyond.

“We want to help make sure these kids can grow up and lead happy lives in any way we can,” Raja says of the club’s mission.

Started by social worker

Founded by John Paul “Chief” Lilly, a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist in Utah, BACA has since established chapters in six countries and 37 states, including Wisconsin groups based in La Crosse and Manitowoc.

Referrals come from parents and guardians, guardians ad litem, law enforcement, prosecutors and, in some cases, local victim/witness programs. In Texas, BACA has its own office in every local courthouse.

The group also maintains a therapy fund for victims -- a BACA brochure notes that many abused kids don’t qualify for public-financed therapy. Reasons vary, but most often it’s because their cases do not meet the basic requirements of the rules of evidence, are summarily closed or because an obviously abused victim is too scared to provide enough evidence to pursue prosecution.

The brochure also notes that “children who feel safe and protected are more capable and likely to tell the truth regarding their abuse because threats made by an abuser are offset by the presence of dedicated, protective bikers that have now become family.”

The legal and social-services system “offers much” to help victims’ healing, the brochure continues. But even with protective orders, “it is physically impossible for law enforcement to provide protection 24 hours a day, indefinitely. … Perpetrators are fully aware of this and find ways to access and further harm their victims.”

That’s where BACA often steps in.

Background checks, training mandatory

After an initial visit to determine whether BACA’s right for a referred case, at least two members are assigned as the victim’s primary contacts, working with a chapter child-psychology and/or social-work professional. For the Minnesota chapter, that person’s road name is “Doc.”

All official BACA members have passed criminal background checks and completed at least a year of special training.

At initial visits, each child gets his or her own motorcycle vest, a BACA patch, a Teddy bear and a road nickname. Later, they go on rides with their new guardians, who also sometimes visit the kids at school and at parties for birthdays and holidays.

“One of our kids sleeps with the vest on because he feels like it protects him at night,” Bull says.

BACA lists the following documented benefits of the relationship: improved self-confidence, diminished regressive behavior, increased feelings of safety, empowerment to testify, better communication, reduced feelings of guilt, decreased negative behaviors, and a sense of belonging, acceptance and independence.

“One of our kids recently became a Big Brother and wanted a Teddy Bear for his sister too. She wasn’t abused, but he still wanted her to feel protected,” Bull says.

“It’s cool that a kid like that still thinks about his sister, not so much himself. I guess that just kind of proves that what we do works.”

Tat and Lugnut, meanwhile, offer the following poem, written by a young victim road-named “Poet” after a ride with her sister and her Minnesota-chapter buddies:

Smiling from ear to ear

Not a problem on my mind

Free from abuse

Feel like going 100 miles per hour

Even though we're going about 30

I hold on to Bull's jacket

And I know I'm safe

I wonder what the people who see me think

Looking back to my sister is awesome

Looking forward at the view is amazing

I feel free

I am free

Thanks BACA.

The Minnesota chapter can be reached at (651) 497-1618. The international group’s website: BACA also has a page on Facebook.

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

(715) 808-8286