Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Good Monsters Revisited

Tap and Mercy are members of the

Bikers Against Child Abuse motorcycle group

in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Photograph by: Gord Waldner , The StarPhoenix

I discovered today that the story link in my original post back in May about Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A.) no longer worked.  I do think, however, that their story has to be told and retold because it says so much about child abuse, safety, healing, and caring.

B.A.C.A. was formed in 1995, spearheaded and founded by Chief (all B.A.C.A. members go by their road names) in response to hearing about an eight year old boy who was so frightened of his abuser that he refused to leave his home.  Chief recruited his biker buddies and befriended the boy.  Within weeks, the boy was again venturing out, riding his bike and playing with his friends.

B.A.C.A. has grown worldwide since then, including a Canadian chapter in Saskatoon, where Tap (seen above on the left) is the Chapter President.

B.A.C.A. members are real bikers, and some have a criminal past, but to become a member they have to pass a criminal record check and anyone with a history of child abuse or domestic violence is refused.  B.A.C.A. also has a strict rule that at least one of the members present with a child has to be the same sex, so B.A.C.A. has both male and female members.

B.A.C.A. prospects have to take training from approved child mental health professionals as part of their year-long indoctrination into the club.

When a child has been abused and is frightened, family members or guardians can call their local B.A.C.A. chapter who will then verify the abuse through the court system, police department, or social services agencies.  Once a child is accepted into the B.A.C.A. program, the chapter organizes a ride with all members rolling out to the child's home.

The child is introduced to the B.A.C.A. members and told who they are and what they do.  B.A.C.A. then gives the child their own kutte - a vest with a B.A.C.A. patch on the back and the child's new road name embroidered on the front - they are then patched in as a member of the club.  Unlike most motorcycle clubs that require members to wear their kuttes with pride, child members can choose to wear them or not - some not wanting to due to the stigma of having been abused.

In Saskatoon at the membership ceremony, B.A.C.A. members each hug a teddy bear and it is given to the child who is told that the bikers have put their love and caring into the bear, and when they're scared, they can hug the bear and feel that love and caring and know that their biker brothers and sisters are there for them.

But it doesn't stop there.

The child is then given two bikers as their own and is given their cell phone numbers and told they can call on them any time, day or night.  Those bikers belong to that child for as long as the child wants.

Assigned B.A.C.A. members are called upon to fill many roles; sometimes it's simply a matter of riding their bikes past the child's home at bedtime - their Harley's thundering past, letting the child know that they are there for them always.

B.A.C.A. members have been called by children to spend time with them when they are home alone while their parents are at work; to walk them to school and home again; even to escort their school bus on their Harleys.  At times B.A.C.A. members will stand on guard outside a child's home all night to help them feel safe.

But perhaps the most important duty B.A.C.A. members have is to be with the child for any court appearances.  If a child has to testify against their abuser, B.A.C.A. members form a protective circle around the child and escort them to the witness stand.  They will then fill the front row of the courtroom and tell the child to look at them, not at their abuser when they testify.  Once the child is finished testifying, B.A.C.A. again forms a circle around the child and escorts him or her home.

"When a child is in a courtroom, their monster is in there with them." Tap told a reporter outside the Saskatoon courthouse in May, 2013, "But with us there, the child thinks 'I have my own monsters and mine are bigger and meaner than you are'."

If an abuser continues to harass or intimidate a child, B.A.C.A. members will organize a ride to the abuser's neighbourhood where they will post flyers and visit all the abuser's neighbours, explaining who they are, what they do, and why they are there.

Despite the biker stereotype, B.A.C.A. has a strict non-violence policy.  If an abuser ever confronts a B.A.C.A. member, their policy is to walk away.  That is of course, so long as the abuser doesn't try to hurt the child.

"We're kind of like barbed wire around the child." Tap said, "And if you try to get to that child ... well, you figure it out."

One of the most important things an abuser steals from a child victim is their sense of safety.  B.A.C.A. gives that safety back.  But B.A.C.A. gives more; acceptance of the child as a valued person; validation that what happened to them WAS a big deal and; that it wasn't their fault.

For more information on Bikers Against Child Abuse, drop by their website at Bikers Against Child Abuse International - Breaking the Chains of Abuse.

And next time you pass a biker, flash him wave - he (or she) might just be one of the good monsters.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Who Are The Stigma Villains?

This one is mostly for my colleagues – and yes, I’ll be pointing some fingers.

There is an international movement afoot to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues with the endgame being that people who are facing mental health problems can seek help without fear of being judged, marginalized, or vilified.  One such movement in Canada is Partners For Mental Health of which I am a member.

A recent exchange on a forum for mental health practitioners illustrated for me that one of the largest and most powerful populations perpetuating the stigma around mental health issues are counsellors and therapists themselves.  That’s right, I’m looking at you Counsellor.

Here’s the breakdown of the problem;

Far too many mental health professionals oppose the use (even the existence) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which is now in it’s fifth edition (DSM-V).  They rail against it, claiming it labels people, transforms psychiatrists into shills for the large pharmaceutical companies, etc.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes after my physician compared the list of my symptoms and the results of blood tests with the diagnostic criteria for Type II Diabetes.  I was then gradually prescribed various medications and dosages plus a change in diet until my Diabetes became manageable.

Was I “labeled”?  Some people try to when they say; “Oh, you’re a diabetic.”  And when they do, I am quick to correct them; “No, I have Type II Diabetes.”  Just like a person with a mental health disorder such as schizophrenia isn’t a “schizophrenic”, they are a person who has schizophrenia.

Mental Health practitioners who vilify the DSM-V and the diagnosing of mental disorders are responsible for intensifying the stigma of mental health problems.  By protesting against the DSM-V and against diagnoses, they are saying that a mental health diagnosis is a bad thing – that it labels a person and makes them a social pariah; someone to be shunned.  That a diagnosis is something to be avoided at all cost.

I have a very dear friend who spent most of her early teen years deeply depressed, barely surviving three serious suicide attempts, and withdrawing completely from society.  She believed that she was flawed, that she couldn’t ever be like other people, that there was no hope for her.  She was finally (and properly) diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and when she learned what it was and how it happened to her, AND that it was treatable, she was profoundly relieved.   These symptoms that had driven her to want to die weren’t her – they were the result of something that had been done to her.  By being diagnosed and beginning treatment, she could separate who she was from what the CPTSD was trying to turn her into.

The DSM-V is a tool, nothing more.  Like any tool, its value lies in how it is used.  I can use a wrench to fix your car or to damage it.  If someone misuses a tool and causes damage, it isn’t the tool’s fault.

The DSM-V is used to diagnose mental health disorders for a number of reasons;
  • To create a starting point for effective treatment by educating practitioners on the nature of any particular disorder
  • To allow individual practitioners to determine if they have the skills to treat this person or refer them on to someone with specific expertise in that area
  • To allow extended health plan administrators to justify authorizing the adequate number of sessions to treat the disorder

So, to my colleagues who continue to vilify the DSM-V and diagnoses in general; apply some critical thinking to what the end result of your ranting will be.  It just might convince someone like my cherished friend that getting diagnosed is a bad thing and could result in them ending their life.

And that would be a tragedy.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC –