|Julio "Shrek" Guanche, president of the San Antonio chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse, right, with fellow member Chuck "Wolf" Felix.|
But what about a biker with a heart made out of gold instead of chrome?
The hog riders who are members of the international organization known as Bikers Against Child Abuse stake their reputations on a lot more than fast engines and back-alley bar fights.
"The image that Hollywood has made of us is not good," says Julio "Shrek" Guanche, president of the 30-member San Antonio BACA chapter. "A lot of people perceive bikers as the bad apples. People think we're the drunks and the drug addicts. Just because I put a leather vest on ... people look at me funny."
BACA has more than 80 chapters worldwide, including 21 in Texas alone. Its main mission is to support children who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. BACA members must pass a background check as well as have access to a motorcycle to be part of the organization.
"They certainly are an unusual group," says Mary Walker, spokesperson for Child Protective Services, who has worked with BACA since its inception in San Antonio four years ago. "They are extremely protective of the children and go out of their way for those who have been in traumatic situations. Any advocacy group like that is certainly welcome."
According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, there are more than 33,000 pending child-abuse investigations and more than 6,000 children currently receiving aid from CPS. BACA is one support organization that caseworkers can recommend to abused children and their families. If a client chooses BACA, the local chapter "adopts" the child into its biker family, a ceremony of sorts known as Level 1, in which members ride to the child's home and present him or her with a biker vest, patch, and road name. BACA promises its new members that it will do everything in its power to protect the children.
One way that the bikers keep their pledge is by participating in what they refer to as a Level 2. In Level 2, BACA members respond to an abuser's threats by camping out on the front lawn of the child's home, for days if necessary (the longest recorded sit-down is a month). Setting up a perimeter outside the house, the bikers watch for the perpetrator and call the police if he or she attempts to get onto the property.
"We are strictly there as a shield," says Chuck Felix, San Antonio child liaison and Level 2 coordinator. "If the perp tries to get to the child they have to go through us. Usually they see us there and drive off immediately because they're cowards. They don't want a confrontation with someone their size."
The San Antonio BACA chapter has yet to deploy a Level 2, but Felix has participated in five Level 2 cases in Austin, Kingsville, and the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. BACA members can sign up to be a part of a Flying Squad, a group that, with 48-hours notice, can go anywhere in the state for up to 48 hours.
"In `one` case, `the abuser` made a direct threat by killing the family cat and leaving it on the front porch," Felix said. "To protect the child, we stayed at the home, took the child to and from school, and even took the child to the mall and wherever they wanted to go. We made sure that there was no way that the individual could get to that child. We did that until the police had enough evidence to put `the abuser` away."
|Julia Duque, 6, gets a temporary BACA tattoo from Gene "Bear" Anders at the Kids Expo held Saturday, August 5.|
"Our persona as bikers does a tremendous amount of help in making these children feel safer," says four-year BACA member Tim "Glowman" Suida, who emphasizes that he and his colleages are not vigilantes looking for a fight. "It also helps keep the perpetrators away because we are bikers and we don't apologize for being bikers. As bikers we are the unknown element."
Perhaps contrary to expectations, BACA members come from all walks of life, comprising doctors, lawyers, housewives, aircraft mechanics, and students who just happen to love riding motorcycles.
"Child-abuse prevention is not just for old professionals," Suida said. "It's for all of us. Someone has to start leading the way."
BACA members are also leading the way for children in the court system. Since family members are sometimes used as witnesses in child-abuse cases and therefore cannot sit in the courtroom while the child is testifying against his or her abuser, BACA members, who at this point have grown to know the child and earn his or her trust, will serve as a support system.
"When we show up in court, `the child` can look out into the gallery and see their brothers and sisters there for them," Suida said. "Then they have the courage and can face their abuser and say what they did to them. That has a lot of weight on the jury and the judge."
One of the youngest BACA members, Justin "Texas" Mire, 21, knows firsthand how hard it is to confront an abuser. At the age of 13, Mire was sexually molested by a family friend. Eight years later, he uses the group both as an avenue to prevent the same thing from happening to other children and as his own personal therapy.
"I never got resolution within myself to accept or understand what happened," Mire said. "Being a part of this organization has allowed me to do that. Now, I know I can help that other 13-year-old boy that is in a similar circumstance. Now, I can tell him that it's not a roadblock for the rest of your life."