Imagine being a child who has to testify in court, give evidence, against an adult who has abused you, sexually or otherwise. An adult you have trusted. An adult you have loved.
This adult has also abused you, perhaps sexually, they might have threatened you, told you not to talk, told you that terrible things would happen if you did.
The Newcastle chapter of BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse) started about three years ago, but the Australian group started in South Australia about six years ago, now operating also in Western Australia, NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
Patience, child liaison officer of Newcastle BACA, “It’s been going for about 26 years in the US in all states. It was started by Chief (John Paul Lilly) who is a Clinical Social Worker, a Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor, and Part-time faculty member at Brigham Young University. After one particular session with a child he was concerned that this child was too frightened to leave his residence. So he and another founding member started going to the child’s house and the rest is history.”
“We empower the children so they get the courage to stand up in court. You have realise that half the time that perpetrator is a family member, so the child is caught between mum and dad, or an uncle, somebody that they did love. Sometimes they’ve been threatened not to say anything.”
“We also have had cases where bullying is happening at school so we take the child on the back of the bike to school a couple of times, and back home again, just to let the other kids know that the child is part of the BACA family. We empower them to become our brothers and sisters.”
Blaze, secretary of Newcastle BACA (and daughter of Patience), describes the organisation, “We’re not a 1% organisation. We will do events with them for charities and so on, but we don’t condone violence or anything like that, but we co-exist. We’re pretty much a biker organisation that is a non-profit charity. We raise money for children that have been abused and need further assistance after DOCS, the psychologists and the counsellors have left. We get them strong again and get them back out into society where they can cope. They can stand up for themselves again.”
When BACA are called in to a case, the balance of power shifts. The abused child is no longer the scared, powerless, small person to the small person who appears to have a lot of power. Big, hairy, scary-looking friends.
Sumo is the president of the Newcastle chapter of BACA and the largest man I have ever met. “One of my favourite stories is from the US where a little girl was in court. She was squirming and carrying on so the BACA brothers asked her what was wrong. She said, ‘I have to go to the toilet but HE’s out there!’. They said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll handle it’ and formed a circle around her, walked her out to the toilet, right past him (the perpetrator of her abuse) and a couple of the BACA sisters took her in to the toilet, and on the way back, she was in the middle of the circle again but squirmed her way through, poked her head out, looked at him, gave the bloke the finger and went back into the court.”
One of Patience’s roles as child liaison officer is to organise the intervention ride. “People ring, they contact us. The criteria is that the child has to be in the system, that is DOCS or another community service. It’s good to know if the child has already been involved with the police so we don’t step on any toes. The police are aware of us. We are all police-checked.”
“We arrange an interview with the parent or guardian that is looking after the child before we meet the child. When we do, we describe everything about ourselves and ask them if they want to be in the BACA family. On the intervention ride, we get members from Sydney and the north coast, we meet them, put them on the back of the bike with their own little helmet, gloves, a vest with their road name on it, and they go for a ride.”
“In the US, BACA have even followed school buses to and from school because the child might be distressed by going past someone’s house.”
Blaze says she has her own experience of abuse but that joining BACA with her parents was a great way to turn her experience into a positive, “Nothing is better when they come up to you, after you know what they’ve been through, and give you a hug and say thank you.”
Sumo agrees, “The greatest thing we get out of it is when the little kid you first met who won’t come out of their cocoon, they won’t talk to you, but six months later they run up to you, give you a hug, they’re confident and happy, they’re sleeping well, going well at school.”
Blaze points out that BACA is all about the child, “The parents, the guardian, the carer often struggles with what their child has been through, but we’re strictly for empowering the kids.”
She was anxious about her first intervention, fully aware that the child might just be scared of her with her tattoos and leather. “I was anxious. With these children you have to let them figure it out. You turn up, introduce yourself and let them take their time.”
Sumo has been on about five intervention rides, “Every one is different, but we really can see that we are helping these kids, we’re seeing them get better.”
Patience says that when BACA are out at shopping centres giving information she is often approached by members of her own generation, the baby boomers. “They’ll say, ‘I wish you were around when I was young.”
There’s no denying that even a lady biker like Patience, all neat blonde blow-wave and manicure is still a bit intimidating in her leather vest covered in patches.
“We didn’t know how we’d be received at the courthouse to start with, we didn’t know how they’d receive us, but we go to the court house, we take off our vest, it goes through the x-ray machine. We all have police checks and the working with children checks done, we don’t want the wrong people involved. But we have now been asked by a solicitor to attend a court in Sydney.”
“If the child has only one family member with them, and that person is sitting by themselves, the barrister might ask us to take our vests off but we’ll still have our t-shirts on and we’ll fill up the rest of the seats. We don’t ask or want to know what has happened to the child, but seeing them turn into a butterfly is great.”