Motorcyclists who go by Reaper, Skar, Sparky and Skully, wear black hoodies bearing skulls and vests with patches of a clenched fist, are actually riding to help children – they’re members of Bikers Against Child Abuse International.
BACA International was created in Utah in 1995 to help child victims of abuse overcome fear and form healthy lives. The organization exists to “provide aid, comfort, safety, and support for children that have been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused,” according to its website, and now has chapters in 17 countries, including BACA’s Mid Vancouver Island chapter, formed in 2012.
BACA deals with children age 2 to 18. The abuse must have been reported to police and it must be the parent or guardian of the abused child that contacts the club for its members to consider becoming involved with the child and the child’s family.
“What we do is we work to empower kids that have been through abusive situations, that are feeling fearful in the world that they live in,” said Sarah (Skully) Smith, the mid Island chapter’s child liaison.
When BACA riders work with a child, they seek to become, in a sense, a family of big brothers and sisters to the child. Children under BACA’s watch can call on riders simply to be with them if they feel frightened at home. The riders can also escort children in their neighbourhoods, support the children at court and parole hearings and other situations the child might find frightening or overwhelming.
“We’re very careful to make sure that we empower the children to find the strengths within themselves and don’t become their strength because that’s not our mission,” said Tom (Motown) Goudreau, BACA Mid Vancouver Island chapter president. “It’s about find the strength within them and then going forward with healing that comes beyond that.”
Goudreau said BACA riders work with tens of thousands of children worldwide and with all agencies in place to help children dealing with abuse.
“Sometimes we’re working in the court system and we’re working with the victim services people … Every agency that’s there to help children, we’re aligned with … On the Island, we have a very active chapter. It’s unfortunate. Child abuse is epidemic in our view and there’s no shortage of children to help,” Goudreau said.
Goudreau, who is a father and grandfather, said he joined the organization because it combines the things he loves, children and motorcycles. He said BACA focuses strictly on the children it helps and is not a “creep catchers organization;” dealing with perpetrators is the job of the police and the courts and none of the club’s concern.
“Our mission is narrow enough that we only deal with the children that live in fear,” Goudreau said. “Unfortunately where child abuse is concerned, a lot of them do live in fear … So we’re all about getting that child what they need moving forward to be able to heal and get on with a life and not have the trouble with drugs and alcohol and those kind of things that can happen when you don’t deal with this stuff.”
Prospective members must pass criminal background checks and undergo extensive training to qualify to ride with the club. He said it’s important that people understand that BACA members are vetted and well-trained.
“When they get through the criminal background check – and they’ve been around the club for months at that point – we start the training,” Goudreau said. “There are no less than 40 courses right now that everybody gets put through … to train to be around wounded children … We have real strict protocols to protect, not only us, but the children and families that we serve.”
Privacy for the children the club helps and its members is paramount, so club members only refer to themselves publicly by their road names. Goudreau, Smith and chapter vice-president Bob Parent agreed to be identified for this article because they want families know they are there to help if needed.
“We just want our communities around here to know about us, to know that we’re a resource that’s available to children in our area as well,” Smith said.
To learn more about BACA International and its mid Vancouver Island chapter, click here.
Club meetings are held the last Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at Shelly Road Hall in Parksville and the chapter also maintains a help line at 1-250-927-5026.