Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Bikers rally against abuse

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/20/2014

A group of bikers clad in leather jackets filed into the courtroom Monday morning.

They weren’t in Osage County District Court to simply watch the sentencing of Ronald L. Hartpence Jr. They rode to Lyndon to protect and support a young girl who had lost her innocence to a rapist. The 38-year-old Melvern man received a life sentence in the child sex abuse case.

A group of bikers clad in leather jackets filed into the courtroom Monday morning.

They weren’t in Osage County District Court to simply watch the sentencing of Ronald L. Hartpence Jr. They rode to Lyndon to protect and support a young girl who had lost her innocence to a rapist. The 38-year-old Melvern man received a life sentence in the child sex abuse case.

“The perp got life in prison,” “Ripper” said, nodding in satisfaction.

Known only by their road names, Ripper and his associates are members of Bikers Against Child Abuse.

“I joined to do something better with my bike, and with what my wife had been through previously as a child and growing up,” Ripper, president of the recently formed BACA Santa Fe Trail Chapter based in Ottawa, said. “I couldn’t stand seeing kids get hurt so I went and checked out BACA [in 2008] and have been in it ever since.”

Ripper and a handful of other members of the Northeast Kansas Chapter, Topeka, started the Santa Fe Trail Chapter to spread BACA’s presence to Franklin County and the surrounding area, they said.

With the motto “No child deserves to live in fear,” BACA is an international nonprofit organization founded in 1995 by John Paul “Chief” Lilly. Chief, a licensed clinical social worker, taught as a part-time faculty member at Brigham Young University for 17 years. He has been in practice for more than 20 years, most of which has been spent in the treatment of abused children, according to BACA’s website.

BACA’s mission is to create a safer environment for abused children, according to its website. The group exists as a body of bikers to empower children to not feel afraid of the world in which they live, local BACA members said.

The organization works in conjunction with local and state officials who already are in place to protect children, the website said.

“We have a direct link with a lot of agencies in the area,” Ripper said.

Victims are referred to BACA via case advocates in the county attorney’s office, law enforcement agencies, social workers and other organizations that provide services to victims, Ripper said. Victims also can call a BACA chapter’s help line directly. The Santa Fe Trail Chapter’s help line is (913) 313-9987, or the chapter can be reached via email at sftbaca@gmail.com

Once contact is established, the victim would speak with the chapter’s child liaison, Ripper said. All chapters function under the same guidelines, he said.

“Our child liaison is ‘Violet,’” Ripper said. “Violet would see if a report has been filed [with law enforcement]. It doesn’t necessarily mean charges have been filed — just as long as a report has been filed. Violet will do her investigating [to verify the report]. She’ll bring it to the [local chapter] board, and the board will vote. If we say, ‘OK,’ we’ll go do an initial visit with the child. That’s where we will send Violet and what would be the two primaries out to visit the child.”

BACA family

A primary contact is that child’s direct link to BACA, Ripper said.

BACA has chapters in 39 states in the U.S., as well as chapters in Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, France and Germany, according to BACA’s website.

“Abuse doesn’t stop at the borders,” Ripper said.

An estimated 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse exist in America today, according to the national Notification is Prevention Foundation.

Once BACA signs on to defend and support a child abuse victim, several levels of intervention are available to the organization. A Level 1 Intervention consists of the organization deploying a ride to the victim’s house.

“The first time you do a Level I and roll up on that child’s house with 20 bikes and that child — who probably hasn’t smiled in months — sees us they can’t stop smiling,” Ripper said. “Then you see all these big burly bikers crying — and we were able to do that just by showing up. You know that child knows that there are people who care about them and that will be there for them.”

If Level 1 is not sufficient to deter further abuse or harassment, a Level 2 Intervention will take place in which several BACA members will be sent for further exposure.

“Law enforcement is very supportive [of BACA],” Ripper said. “They know we can do some things they can’t do. They can’t station a car outside a child’s house if a perp is trying to intimidate the child 24 hours a day. [Law enforcement] is bound by a budget. We’re not. We’re volunteers and we don’t get paid. We have chosen to sign up for this fight, and that’s what we will do.”

BACA members also accompany victims to court appearances. Too many cases are dismissed, Ripper said, because a child is too scared to testify.

“Bronco,” head of Santa Fe Trail Chapter’s security, said abuse takes many forms.

“It’s not just sexual abuse, it’s physical abuse, it’s mental abuse, it’s emotional abuse,” Bronco said. “The gamut is vast.”

“Cross,” Santa Fe Trail Chapter secretary, said the most challenging part is hearing in court what the child has been through.

“But the most rewarding part of working with children is seeing the smile on their faces when we pull up to visit them or after they’re done in court and they know it is over and they can get on with their lives,” she said.

Violet, who also is the chapter’s treasurer, said it is rewarding to witness child abuse victims become empowered.

“The most rewarding part is seeing a child who didn’t want to talk or come out of their room or go to school or participate in life become empowered,” Violet said. “Now they’re back in school, they want to be with their friends and realize they didn’t do anything wrong — somebody else did.”

Empowering victims

The message of empowerment came through in the Hartpence case in Osage County. During the sentencing hearing Monday, the victim said in a prepared statement she had been afraid of Hartpence but was not scared of him any longer.

Child victims often form a bond with BACA members, Violet said.

“The love seeing us,” Violet said. “They will say, ‘Are you coming to my birthday party? Are you coming to my softball game? They always want you there.”

Children stay in the BACA family until they graduate out of the program at age 18 when they become old enough to join the organization if they want, Ripper said. Many children stay in contact with BACA members even after they turn 18 and graduate from high school, he said.

“Some still call us and they come visit,” Ripper said. “They want to succeed in life. They call or email or text us all the time telling us what they’ve done. And, you know, to me I think we’ve played a big part in their life to where they feel proud to be doing these things again.”

“Bogi,” the chapter’s vice president, agreed.

“A lot of these kids are in it for a long time — you watch them grow up and they progress and get more friendly and then they get in high school and they actually go on dates and that’s a big step,” Bogi said. “It’s very rewarding to watch these kids grow up.”

The bikers even cited an example of recently escorting a former child victim to her prom.

When child victims get older, they still recognize the organization’s patch — a fist with the BACA initials on the knuckles. The outer edge of the patch is surrounded by a chain, which also signifies BACA’s desire to break the chain of child abuse, Violet said.

“They are empowered and they don’t need us, but they still care,” Violet, who joined the organization in 2009, said. “We’ve gone to places and there were children who were BACA kids from years ago and they recognize the patch. They don’t remember their road name and they don’t remember our road names, but they remember that patch and the difference we made. We usually get hugs from those kids who are complete strangers to us but they have been impacted positively in the past by other members.”

Persons interested in joining BACA must come to at least two meetings, be finger-printed and pass a Federal Bureau of Investigation background check, Ripper said.

“We are bikers, we’re not saints,” Ripper said. “If somebody comes to us and there’s say a counterfeiting charge in their background, that’s not going to exclude them from being in BACA. Now, if they’ve hurt their children or wives [through domestic violence] or been found guilty of any kind of child abuse [crime], they will not be part of BACA.”

If the board votes to approve a new member, the person is considered a cleared supporter and will receive a patch for the front of their vest that indicates they’ve completed the background check. A supporter can do everything a member can do except be a primary contact for a child, Ripper said.

After a supporter has ridden with BACA for a year to 18 months and is found to be in good standing, the person will receive a patch for the back of the vest that indicates the rider is now a full BACA member, Ripper said.

The BACA Santa Fe Trail Chapter meets 2:30 p.m. the fourth Sunday of each month at the Eagles Lodge, 524 E. 15th St., Ottawa. The chapter’s next meeting is Sunday.

Ripper said more chapter members always would be nice, but growing the chapter’s membership is not the primary focus.

“We just want to help kids.”

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