“These tough bikers have a soft spot: aiding child-abuse victims. Anytime, anywhere, for as long as it takes the child to feel safe, these leather-clad guardians will stand tall and strong against the dark, and the fear, and those who seek to harm.”
Last night I read one of the most profoundly moving articles of my life, about a group of people who wouldn’t ordinarily bring me to tears - a biker gang.
But this isn’t just any gang - this is BACA, the Bikers Against Child Abuse.
I burst into tears over and over again (for all the right reasons) reading this article and the stories of what these incredible people do for kids and their loved ones. Read the excerpt below, and then, please, go and read the full article* - it’s worth every moment.
And I couldn’t help but wonder - given NZ’s shockingly high rates of child abuse, couldn’t we start something like this here?
The 11-year-old girl hears the rumble of their motorcycles, rich and deep, long before she sees them. She chews her bottom lip, nervous.
They are coming for her.
The bikers roar into sight, a pack of them, long-haired and tattooed, with heavy boots and leather vests, and some riding double. They circle the usually quiet Gilbert cul-de-sac, and the noise pulls neighbors from behind slatted wood blinds and glossy front doors.
One biker stops at the mouth of the street, parks in the middle of the road and stands guard next to his motorcycle, arms crossed.
The rest back up to the curb in front of the girl’s house, almost in formation, parking side by side. There are 14 motorcycles in all, mostly black and shiny chrome. The bikers rev their engines again before shutting them down.
The sudden silence is deafening. The girl’s mother takes her hand.
The leader of this motorcycle club is a 55-year-old man who has a salt-and-pepper Fu Manchu and wears his hair down past his shoulders. He eases off his 2000 Harley Road King and approaches the little girl.
He is formidable, and intimidating, and he knows it. So he bends low in front of the little girl and puts out his hand, tanned and weathered from the sun and wind: “Hi, I’m Pipes.”
"Nice to meet you," she says softly, her small hand disappearing in his.
Pipes - the bikers all go by their road names for security - steps back and another biker comes forward, also bent low and hand out, smiling. She has a long blond ponytail, and her name is Nytro. Next is D’Animal, his arms thick with muscles, a do-rag covering his head.
Rock, who is as solid as one, assures the little girl: “I’m really a nice guy.” She smiles. And then there’s Pumpkin and, whoa, the girl looks way up, squinting against the morning sun. “Hi, I’m Tree,” he says, and he’s as tall as one.
Sassy. Rembrandt. And then Harmony and Shiraz, and the child does a double take. Yes, there are two of them, twin biker chicks. Surely. Uno. Smiles. Tool. Mo Money. Bigg Dogg. Fat Daddy. Ghost Daddy. Father Time. And Trucker, who’s louder than all the others.
The girl chewing on her lip was abused by a relative, according to police reports - someone she should have been able to trust. He’s not in the state any longer, but the criminal case is progressing slowly, so he’s not in jail, either.
He still terrorizes her at night, even though he’s nowhere near. She wakes, heart pounding. The nightmare feels real again. She never feels safe, even with her parents just downstairs.
The unruly-looking mob in her driveway is there to help her feel safe again. They are members of the Arizona chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse International, and they wear their motto on their black leather vests and T-shirts: “No child deserves to live in fear.”
This one is very afraid.
A tough image
Even kids know that nobody messes with bikers. Bikers look big, and strong, and mean, both in real life and in how they are portrayed on television and in films. They are easy riders, sons of anarchy, not afraid of anything. And they take care of their own.
A child who has been abused by someone bigger and stronger knows too well what it feels like to be small and vulnerable. BACA shifts that balance by putting even bigger and stronger people - and more of them - on the child’s side.
And if those even-bigger and stronger people are scary-looking too, perhaps with flaming-skull tattoos, chains on their belts and scars of questionable origin, so much the better.
"The biker image is what makes this work," says Rembrandt, 54, who is tall and wiry strong. "Golfers against child abuse does not have the same feel. The pink alligator shirt and golf shoes standing in the driveway doesn’t do the same thing."
(No offense to golfers. Some bikers golf, too.)
What Rembrandt knows is that a biker’s power and intimidating image can even the playing field for a little kid who has been hurt. If the man who hurt this little girl calls or drives by, or even if she is just scared, another nightmare, the bikers will ride over and stand guard all night.
If she is afraid to go to school, they will take her and watch until she’s safely inside.
And if she has to testify against her abuser in court, they will go, too, walking with her to the witness stand and taking over the first row of seats. Pipes will tell her, “Look at us, not him.” And when she’s done, they will circle her again and walk her out.
"When we tell a child they don’t have to be afraid, they believe us," Pipes says. "When we tell them we will be there for them, they believe us."
Earlier in the day, when the bikers met in the parking lot of a nearby CVS/pharmacy, Pipes reminded them to be mindful of their emotions. That means no hugging unless the child initiates it.
"Nytro," Pipes says, raising his eyebrows in her direction. Nytro hides her face behind her hands, and everyone laughs. She’s quick to hug.
And then Pipes says, more sternly this time: There will be no crying.
"I don’t want to see any tears coming out of your eyes, and the child doesn’t either," he says, making sure everyone is looking at him when he says it.
"Remember why we’re here: to empower the child. If you can’t handle it, keep your shades on."
Part of the family
The little girl in the driveway needs to be able to believe. Her parents, the police and her therapist all tell her that she is safe. But it’s hard when someone you once trusted ended up hurting you.
After all the bikers introduce themselves, Pipes holds up a small vest covered in patches, just like the bikers’ but made of denim instead of leather. On one patch is the girl’s new road name: Rhythm, for a girl who dances and plays music.
"Rhythm," she repeats, and smiles.
"This means now you’re part of our big, ugly family," Pipes says as he helps her into the vest, first one arm and then the other.
"Speak for yourself - we’re not all ugly!" a voice calls out, and the bikers laugh.
Pipes bends low again and tells Rhythm, “If you’re afraid, you call us. Whenever you need us, we will be here.”
Rhythm nods, tears in her wide blue eyes.
He gives her a T-shirt just like the one the bikers wear. He unfolds a do-rag for her but then hesitates: “I don’t know if you want to wear it.”
"It’s cool," Rhythm says, and turns around so Nytro can tie it on her head.
"Is that too tight?" Nytro asks. Rhythm shakes her head no and turns back around, grinning.
The girl turns suddenly, bolting from the group. She is gone, through the open garage door and into the house. Five minutes pass. And then a different Rhythm emerges, one who shed her lavender girly T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops in favor of her black BACA T-shirt, blue jeans and new biker vest.
The bikers cheer and clap.
"It doesn’t mean you go out and get a tattoo," Trucker teases. Rhythm assures him that she’s afraid of needles, and he gives her a few temporary tattoos with BACA’s logo on them.
There is one more rite to Rhythm’s welcome into the BACA family: She gets to go on a ride with the group, and she gets to choose her bike. Whoever owns the motorcycle she picks has the honor of taking her.
Rhythm walks along the row of bikes, looking them over, one by one. She decides on a black 2005 Yamaha Road Star Midnight Edition.
Tree lets out a whoop. She picked his.
Tree is a 43-year-old father of four, a truck driver training to be a certified motorcycle mechanic. He’s so big that Rhythm can’t get her arms around him, so she reaches up and grabs hold of the arm holes of his vest instead.
Few of the bikers wear helmets, as they are not mandated by law in Arizona, but they make the kids do so. Rhythm’s is fastened in place and then she and Tree are surrounded by another half-dozen bikes. The group roars out of the cul-de-sac together.
Rhythm shouts up at Tree: “This is so cool!”
Fifteen minutes later, they are back, and Rhythm slides off the bike, taking Rembrandt’s offered hand.
"It was fun!" she announces as Smiles pulls off her helmet, and then to Tree she says, "Sorry, I probably was squeezing you really hard."
"Thanks for going on a ride with me," Tree tells her. "That was really fun."
"Can I ask you a question?" Rhythm asks him. Sure, Tree says.
"How tall are you?"
He’s 6 feet 10.
"Wow," she says. "You’d be a great basketball player."
In just the short time the bikers have been here, not even an hour yet, there has been a change in Rhythm.
She slowly moved into the half-moon of bikers, and they closed in around her. She’s answering questions about school, the chickens out back and what kind of music she likes.
And she’s laughing.
To her parents, it is like music. Her mother wipes her eyes with her fingertips; her dad takes pictures.
"Look how bright her face is," says Rhythm’s therapist, who is there on the driveway, too. "It hasn’t been that bright in a long time."
Two of the bikers will be Rhythm’s “primaries,” her main contacts in the group. Sassy, 34, a mother of six and a former paralegal, and Tool, 46, a co-owner of a payment-processing company, will be hers. They will be available to her 24 hours a day by cellphone.
"Now you realize you’re stuck with all of us," Pipes says, and Rhythm nods, smiling.
Pipes tests to see whether Rhythm understood what he meant earlier when he told her that these people are her family now. He puts his hand on Uno’s shoulder and asks her, “Who’s this?”
"Uno, my big brother," she answers.
"Tool, my big brother."
Pipes points: “Who’s that?”
"Harmony, my big sister."
"Who are all of these people?" Pipes asks, holding his arms wide.
"My family," Rhythm says firmly.
And then she hugs Pipes, burying her face in his vest: “Thank you for coming to see me.”
Sassy turns away so no one sees her tears.
And one after another, the bikers put their sunglasses back on.
Why they do it
The bikers are all volunteers, giving five, 10, 20 or more hours a week. There’s no reimbursement for gas or the time they take off work. They have to go through background checks and prove themselves to the group. But each has a reason for doing so.
Nytro is a 54-year-old mother of three, all grown now, and grandma to six. She and Rembrandt have been happily married for almost 30 years, and they run a residential and commercial painting business.
Her life was not always as sunny.
The mistreatment started at about 7, after her father left. She learned to hide in the closet to cry, because if her mom saw tears, she would hit her again. She spent years in a cycle that sent her from her mother to her grandparents and back, to social workers and foster homes and back again.
"There wasn’t anybody there for me," Nytro says. "I know how it felt to tell people, ‘I don’t want to go back. Please don’t make me go back,’ and no one would listen to me."
Finally, she ran away. She lived outside for a while, bathing in a lake and doing odd jobs for money to buy food. Pregnant at 17, living in a home for unwed mothers, she was asked to give up her baby for adoption.
"Hell no," was her answer. "God gave him to me." She promised her tiny son that she would be the best mother. At 38 now, he tells her that she made good on her promise.
Now Nytro does for children what no one did for her. If she tells a child she will be there, she’s there.
"I get to stand up for a child and say, ‘No one is going to hurt you anymore,’" Nytro says.
"If that means we die, dang it, we stand ready to be that obstacle."