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How a biker club seeks to protect children against abuse

The escape of a suspected child molester from custody in California has prompted a Bikers Against Child Abuse to rally to support the child. 

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    Bikers Against Child Abuse is an international non-profit organization made up of bikers, who provide presence and security in partnership with law enforcement and other child protection agencies. The group recently made headlines because its Silicon Valley-based chapter is providing protection for a victim after her suspected molester fled police custody.
    Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
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They may have the leather vests, tattoos, bandanas, and choppers, but Sons of Anarchy they are not. 

The motorcycle club Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) is dedicated to one thing and one thing only: protecting abused children. 

Established in the 1990s, BACA has recently garnered national attention following the escape of suspected child molester Johnell Carter on Friday. Authorities have not yet located Carter, who had escaped custody in San Jose during a medical examination, reports KPIX, the San Francisco CBS affiliate. The Silicon Valley chapter of the international non-profit motorcycle organization stepped up and is now providing 24/7 security at the home of the girl that Mr. Carter's is suspected of having abused.

The group was founded by John Paul “Chief” Lilly, a licensed clinical social worker and a registered play therapist and supervisor, notes the organization's website. All of the bikers use code names to protect their identity from those they are trying to stop, according to AZCentral.com. The group says that their mission is to end child abuse and to work with law enforcement and state agencies to protect victims of child abuse, not to perform acts of vigilante justice. 

"As a sheriff's office we appreciate them protecting the victim and the family," Santa Clara County Sheriff spokesperson Sgt. James Jensen told the Monitor.

Carter was scheduled to appear in court next month to face charges of five counts of child molestation, but escaped when he overpowered the lone deputy escorting him to his medical appointment, reports KPIX. 

Despite the seriousness of Carter's charges, he was still classified as a minimum security inmate. “Because he’s a minimum security inmate, our policy says that only one deputy guards him. We are going to reevaluate that policy,” Sgt. Jensen told KPIX. 

BACA Spokesperson “Hoss” told KPIX that the group will, “do whatever we have to do to make this family feel safe, and we will do whatever we have to do to protect her.”

BACA strives to provide a physical presence for victims of child abuse, to let them know that they are cared about and protected. According to WJCT, a community-sponsored broadcasting outlet located in Jacksonville, Fla, the local BACA chapter intervened in roughly 100 of Florida's approximately 52,000 child abuse cases between 2010 and 2014.

"We give them the empowerment to say, ‘This is who did this to me,'" Seven Bridges President, "Chops," told WJCT. Seven Bridges is the name of the Jacksonville-area BACA chapter. "We’re not speakers for the children, and we’re not counselors. We’re more like rocks of emotion for them. And we let them know that, while we’re around, nobody’s going to mess with them.” 

BACA's website says that they work closely with state agencies that deal with abuse cases as well as law enforcement to provide the best possible support for an abused child. The group does not lend it services to a child until a referring agency or individual has established that a child still feels unsafe in his or her current environment. After a child abuse case has been filed in the legal system, and after a BACA liaison has communicated with the relevant agencies and parties, only then is the victim's contact information given to the region's chapter. At that point members will go meet with the child and the family and give the child a BACA vest with a BACA patch to sew on the back, meaning that the victim is an accepted member of the organization.

BACA is emphatic that its members are not vigilantes, "BACA does not condone, support or participate in the use of aggression, violence or physical force in any manner," says their website. But then it continues, "If, however, ANY person should seek to inflict harm on one of our BACA Members, we will respond with commitment and loyalty to protect our Member."

The group aims to turn the balance of power in the child's favor because they were abused by someone overpowering him or her, so the bikers demonstrate strength in numbers to signify that an abuser has to overpower a biker gang in order to abuse the child again, notes AZCentral.com.

"The biker image is what makes this work," biker Rembrandt, told AZ Central. "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."

[Editor's note: The original headline incorrectly identified BACA as "gang." It's a club.]

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