Members of the Willamette Valley chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse post for a photo during a pancake breakfast fundraiser at Salem Harley-Davidson on May 1, 2021 (Courtesy/Gary Gibbons)
They dress like they're auditioning to be extras on "Sons of Anarchy." But Gary Gibbons and Helen Bagley are more often found hugging teddy bears or practicing their hula hooping skills.
The pair are members of the Willamette Valley chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse.
Bagley, the group's treasurer, goes by her road name "Lefty." She and other members often field calls from children who have been intimidated or contacted by their abusers as court proceedings are in progress.
Their job is to be the child’s protector. That can mean reassuring a kid who's afraid their abuser is outside the home, Bagley said.
“We’ll go stand at the kid’s house, stand outside so they can sleep. Because they’re scared,” Bagley said. “They’re scared and they shouldn’t have to be scared.”
Bikers Against Child Abuse aren’t vigilantes, and Bagley said their focus remains on the child and what they want. She said sometimes the presence of bikers in leather can deter abusers or relatives who might try to talk the child out of testifying.
She recalled one court case where a girl had been abused by her uncle, and the girl’s aunt had been pressuring her not to testify. When the aunt approached the girl in court, bikers conferred with the victim and asked if she wanted to talk to her aunt. The girl said no, so Bagley said they stood in a circle around the girl to prevent her aunt from disturbing her.
“She said no, she meant no, you gotta leave,” Bagley said.
The Willamette Valley chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse was founded in 2014 and has between a dozen and 30 members involved at a time, said Gibbons, who serves as president.
It’s part of Bikers Against Child Abuse International, formed in Utah in 1995 by John Paul “Chief” Lilly, a social worker and therapist who said he often saw abused children make progress in sessions, only to have it undone when their abusers drove by their houses or tried to intimidate them.
Lilly wanted to mobilize fellow bikers to help kids feel safe and let them know they had adults who would protect them. Adult members are background checked.
Gibbons, whose road name is Gunny, got his first Harley in 2003 and said he prefers long distance travel outside of a “cage,” which is what he calls cars.
“I like the freedom of riding a motorcycle, I like the wind when you’re traveling down the road. It’s a different experience,” he said.
He’d heard of Bikers Against Child Abuse and said he wanted to give back, which motivated him to go to an early meeting in Salem.
Children are referred to the group through a variety of paths. Sometimes, parents reach out seeking help. Other times, it’s social workers or counselors who suggest having biker protectors might help a child feel safe.
The group won’t get involved unless there’s a legal proceeding or police report, Bagley said. When a child is referred, they’re given their own biker vest and road name, signed by the adult members of the group, and a teddy bear each adult has hugged.
Two members are assigned to the child and write phone numbers inside the vest so they can be contacted any time, day or night. Bagley said members will attend court with the child and make it clear they’re not alone.
“It’s hard to sit in a courtroom and hear what’s happened to these kids,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking but it’s so fulfilling when you hear a kid say this person did this and it wasn’t OK.”
Gibbons said the group will also take children for motorcycle rides and give gifts around the holidays. He said an early case for the group was a girl who liked to hula hoop, which proved challenging for some of the members.
“We don’t look very pretty. Most of us are a little on the bigger side, we wear leather, we’ve got beards,” he said. “Some of the guys in BACA, you will struggle to get a hula hoop over their shoulders.” But they did their best, hoping to make the girl happy.
“Most everybody tried to get that hula hoop over their shoulders and give it a twist,” he said.
Bikers Against Child Abuse has remained involved with kids during the pandemic, though events like motorcycle rides and parties have been curtailed. Bagley said the group typically has about 20 to 30 active cases at a time, though once a child is initiated, they remain a member of the group until they turn 18 and can continue to call on adult members for support.
As schools have reopened for in-person classes and normal life gradually resumes, Bagley and Gibbons said they’ve started seeing more calls and referrals.
Gibbons said that worries him, but the group remains ready to protect kids.
“Our hope is to get them to the point where they don’t need us,” he said.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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