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Fighting child abuse with motorcycles
Bearcat clearly remembers his first “level two.”
A child had been sexually abused by his varsity wrestling coach and family members of the accused were trying to intimidate the victim against testifying.
Before Bearcat and the other motorcycle riders — all clad in leather — showed up, the young victim hadn’t slept for days and would change clothes every time he walked out of the house. But during Bearcat’s first shift covering the front porch, the boy came outside just to say, “hi.” He was also wearing the same clothes as he’d been in before. He eventually slept for 17 hours straight.
“This kid doesn’t need to be afraid, to hide when coming out of his house,” said Bob Stutz, a.k.a Bearcat, president of the Lake Washington chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse. “It is very rewarding.”
BACA is an international nonprofit organization that assists any child exposed to domestic violence or child abuse and live in fear of the perpetrator. Members of the Lake Washington chapter in Seattle are currently working with the Covington Domestic Violence Task Force in order to build a partnership in Covington and the surrounding communities. Members of the BACA chapter are expected to be involved in the Covington Days parade on July 19th.
BACA only works with children who have been referred from child protective agencies. Victoria Thron, director and founder of the Covington Domestic Violence Task Force, said she has been working to collaborate with BACA for a couple months. Thron said she discovered BACA through a Facebook post.
“I’d never heard of them before,” she said. “It was video. I was so moved by it.”
Covington hosts the annual Domestic Violence Regional Task Force meeting. Last year a forensic nurse presented on strangulation. This year, they hosted Bearcat and his Vice President, Danger, who told BACA’s story and mission to about 60 people in the business of helping children.
“Everybody was just so blown away at what they do,” Thron said. “The commitment they have as warriors for children is just phenomenal.”
The stereotypical perspective of bikers is slightly misleading in BACA’s case — these are certainly not Hell’s Angels. BACA is a 100 percent voluntary organization filled with social workers, mechanics, software engineers, farmers and even a minister who goes by the monicker Preacher Man, who must all pass background checks. No matter the professional background, the mixture of leather jackets, revved cycles and rugged road names seem to come together as exactly the kind of friends a scared child needs.
“We use that image to our benefit,” Bearcat said.
Bearcat, a retired social worker who worked for more than 40 years with neglected and abused children, wears multiple patches, including one that says, “No child deserves to live in fear.” When he started with the organization, he’d tell people that BACA “brings purpose” to his bike.
“The more I got into BACA, the less I needed that statement,” he said. “It has nothing to do with my bike. It has to do with protecting and empowering kids.”
There are five BACA chapters around the state and about 153 more in 44 states, plus in countries around the world, such as Australia, Italy, France and Canada.
There are approximately 30-35 bikers in the Lake Washington chapter, split about evenly between men and women. Bearcat said the chapter has helped 135 kids since it started in 2007. Each accepted child gets a bicycle jacket and picks a “road name” to be part of the BACA family. The level one acceptance ceremony involves all available bikers coming together at the victim’s home for a united front that often leaves the child in awe.
“The only reason I’m here, the only reason I do this, is to see the smile on that face,” said Celt, a member of the Lake Washington chapter for five years.
BACA members attempt to form relationships with victims, taking them to ice cream and going on rides. Victims are also invited to come together barbecues and a Christmas party.
Kids may stay under the BACA wing until the age of 18, but it is not typically a multi-year process. Still, BACA members are available all day or night, every day of the year, for help.
“Even though a case may end, that doesn’t necessarily mean the case goes away,” Bearcat said.
Bearcat said he’s never been involved in a fight over his nine years as a BACA member. He said the organizations goal is to always get the proper authorities involved.
“We don’t believe in violence and don’t condone violence,” he said. “If push comes to shove we will protect the kid… but it’s never come to that.”
The group’s physical presence is most powerful at home and in the courthouse.
BACA members are known to surround a child victim as he or she walks into the courtroom to testify – providing a shield from the eyes of an alleged abuser. They will give the kids trinkets to hold on the witness stand and tell them to only look at the people in leather; no need to look at the other table. This is an especially important tactic when the other family members are not allowed in the courtroom since they will also be testifying.
“Often times kids have no one in their with them,” he said. “But we are there. The kids can feel empowered and supported to testify against the perpetrator.”
If there are any imminent threats of intimidation or concern, a level two of protection is called, where a minimum of two BACA members camp outside the child’s doorstep all day and all night until the threat is over. Bearcat said members once camped out in two to four hour shifts three straight days in Everett.
“It really empowers the children because abuse takes away that power,” Thron said.