Sporting matching leather jackets covered in patches, their motorcycles revving as they turn the corner into the O’Fallon VFW Post 805 parking lot, a group of bikers probably isn’t what some first consider to be kid-friendly.
But Bikers Against Child Abuse, or BACA, is a volunteer organization that works to support children who are abused physically, sexually or emotionally.
Internationally founded in 1995, and locally active since 2006, the Metro-East chapter of BACA covers the entire region of Southwestern Illinois from Alton to Anna. The group meets monthly at the VFW hall in O’Fallon.
“BACA exists with the intent to create a safer environment for abused children,” the chapter’s president, “M&M,” said.
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M&M and the rest of the chapter’s members refer to themselves by their road names — an identity used for anonymity when they enter the chapter. They say they don’t reveal their names publicly for their protection and the safety of the children they engage with.
“Our job is to work with abused children and empower them to not be afraid of the world in which they live. We do that through our physical and emotional presence,” M&M said.
BACA hears about cases from agencies as well as families. Anyone can contact the group, including the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, religious organizations and law enforcement. If parents don’t permit, they cannot get involved with a child.
The organization can be contacted about a case by calling the chapter helpline, 618-363-4028, however, in order for BACA to interact with a child, the incident of abuse must have been reported and the child’s legal guardian must give approval, M&M said.
“We have a (helpline) number for our chapter, and a family member could call or an agency could call,” the chapter’s child liaison, Mama Bear, said.
BACA works in a series of levels that define how it should intervene in the lives of children.
“The first (level of intervention) is where we go out and we bring the child into our family,” M&M said.
BACA exists with the intent to create a safer environment for abused children. Our job is to work with abused children and empower them to not be afraid of the world in which they live. We do that through our physical and emotional presence.
M&M, local chapter president
To do this, M&M said the chapter rides to the location of the child and gives them their own vest with a road name. If the child wants and the parents approve, the chapter will then take the child on a ride in the neighborhood.
“We will take them for a short ride and just let them know that they have a family that’s here to support them. And typically it’s a family that is willing to do whatever it takes to remove their fear,” M&M said.
According to member Cobb, the chapter’s initial training sponsor, the children they come in contact with are usually very withdrawn upon first encounter, although they eventually open up.
“By the time we leave, typically they’re outgoing, they’re playing with us, they’ve accepted us for being a part of their family and that’s where that empowerment really starts to come in,” Cobb said.
While BACA is a non-violent organization, at first glance, this crew might ward off bypassers. According to M&M, that’s exactly what they want.
“You can see when you roll through a neighborhood and you’re going to visit a child that some of the neighbors are a little standoffish,” M&M said. “That’s good — we don’t want them in the middle of our business. We don’t need them around that child when we’re there with them.”
The next level of intervention occurs if the child’s perpetrator is still making them afraid. This could mean — but is not limited to — calling the house or driving by the house.
“We will go out and be at that child’s house 24/7 until that threat is gone and that child is no longer afraid,” M&M said.
The third level of intervention gets the court system involved.
“We will send a letter through the court system to the perpetrator explaining to them that this child is a part of our family and we will do whatever it takes to keep them safe,” M&M said.
If these actions are not effective, the chapter will then go to the geographical location of the perpetrator and have an awareness ride in which members ride through the neighborhood and knock on doors giving information about themselves to the community.
“If by chance we run into the perpetrator, then we will leave,” M&M said. “We’re not here as vigilantes or anything like that, but we’re here to raise awareness.”
BACA also provides support for children by going to court with them.
“That is the single-most empowering event that they have — the fact that they’re brave enough to get up in a courtroom and sit on the stand and tell everyone what happened,” M&M said.
While the BACA members are only observers in the courtroom of the children, this provides a layer of assurance for the children who have to face their assailant.
“They will go to court with them, even if it’s just two of them, just as a little extra confidence when (the child) feels intimidated by the person that they’re going to be seeing in court,” Jan Baltz, case manager and advocate for the Child Advocacy Center, said.
In the last two years, Baltz said BACA has been to court with one child referred to them by the St. Clair County Child Advocacy Center, although the center also services families outside of the county.
“(BACA) was very helpful at the courthouse for them. They felt very intimidated and even were feeling a little insecure about going from their car to the courthouse, and the courthouse to their car, and (BACA) was able to be there to support them and help them to feel safe,” Baltz said.
Brendan Kelly, chairman of the board for the Child Advocacy Center and St. Clair County’s state’s attorney, has witnessed BACA’s involvement with cases of child abuse and said he believes it is a valuable organization.
“The Child Advocacy Center that I’m chairman of the board for has to deal with so many cases and it needs the support of the community and welcomes that support from organizations like the Metro-East (BACA chapter),” Kelly said.
According to Baltz, she refers families to BACA primarily when a child is feeling scared or intimidated.
“It’s not something that I give that information to every family — it’s usually when they talk about being afraid, or they talk about the child being afraid, and then that’s something that we talk about, and then it’s their decision,” Baltz said.
For families that do want BACA’s involvement, Mama Bear’s job is to determine whether a child’s situation fits certain criteria by talking with the family.
With more than 20,000 cases of child abuse in downstate Illinois during the past 12 months, both the Child Advocacy Center and BACA have a large caseload on their hands.
“I think (child abuse) is more common than we realize,” M&M said, though she believes the topic is gaining more attention lately.
“More people are starting to talk about it now then they did years ago, so more cases are coming to light, and certainly we’ll be there to help as many kids as we can,” she said.
Despite the prevalence of child abuse, M&M said BACA is hopeful there will be a time when their services are no longer needed.
“Ultimately, we (BACA) hope we put ourselves out of business in the future,” M&M said.
Until then, BACA is continuing to reach out to the community and impact the lives of children. The organization often collaborates with local services to raise awareness.
For example, on Aug. 5, BACA will be partnering with the Madison County Child Advocacy Center for a Kids Health Safety and Activity Fair from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Alton Moose Lodge. The organization will have a table with information and games for kids.
“They’ve been with us a couple years at the event, and they usually have a really fun giant Jenga game that they bring for kids to play,” said Claire Cooper, development specialist for the Madison County Child Advocacy Center.
Those interested in joining BACA can attend the chapter’s open meetings at 11 a.m. every second Sunday of the month at VFW Post 805, 223 W. First St., in O’Fallon.
The Child Advocacy Center that I’m chairman of the board for has to deal with so many cases and it needs the support of the community and welcomes that support from organizations like the Metro-East (BACA chapter).
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly
M&M said prospective members must pass a background check and ride with the chapter for a minimum of one year. Crimes of child abuse or domestic violence will disqualify membership.
“We will observe you, get to know you, make sure you’re going to be good to be around these kids — that you’re willing to work with them and do what it takes,” M&M said.
M&M declined to say how many members the local chapter has.
“We have enough (members), and if we don’t have enough, we’ll make some phone calls and people will come in from other chapters, so we’ll have as many as we need,” she said.
BACA’s members have full-time jobs outside of the organization, and while they dedicate their time and energy without pay, they are not without compensation.
According to the chapter’s event coordinator, Stormin’, “Our pay is whenever the child has a smile on their face.”
Bikers Against Child Abuse
BACA has chapters in more than a dozen countries and all 50 states. The Metro-East chapter in Southern Illinois can be reached at:
- P.O. Box 4551, Fairview Heights, IL, 62208-2026.
- Helpline: 618-363-4028
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Meetings: Second Sunday of each month at 11 a.m. at VFW Post 805, 223 W. First St. O’Fallon, IL, 62269.