Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Angels of a Lesser God
They roll like thunder into town. They park their custom motorcycles like the outlaws of a wild west drama. Though they appear as ordinary bikers, the local and federal law enforcement agencies call them outlaws. Much like their wild west ancestors, the iron horse riding outlaws are gun slingers, often crossing the line that separate the good, from the bad and the ugly. Outlaw bikers, such as the Hell’s Angels, are a counter-culture that lives by its own rules. Closer than many families, the Hell’s Angels live the life that many long for, or fear with the very fiber of their being.

The Hell’s Angels were founded in 1949 in Fontana, CA. Many of the original members were prior military looking for an outlet for pent up frustration at the government, rules and laws. Starting as an innocent motorcycle club, the Hell’s Angels quickly rose into the limelight as alcohol and drugs began bringing an infamous reputation to the group. Early chapters of the club sprang up in Oakland, San Francisco, and Gardena. As the organization grew, so did the reputation. The “club” became a “gang” in the media, and the lines between myth and fact became blurred (Barger, 2000, pp. 25-35).

In July of 1946, an American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) sanctioned motorcycle rally in Hollister, California started like any other motorcycle event. There were organized races and some partying, as well as games and events for people to show off their bikes and skills. A motorcycle club by the name of The Boozefighters became notorious for racing their motorcycles down the streets of Hollister and causing fights. There were 60 reported injuries, three of which were serious. The national media, particularly Life Magazine, told the story with pictures of the folly, bringing the biker image to the forefront. The AMA claimed the outlaw biker as being only one percent of the motorcycling population. Thus, the outlaw biker began referring to themselves and “1%er’s”. In 1953 the movie The Wild One staring Marlin Brando and Lee Marvin chronicled the event in typical Hollywood fashion. The image of what a biker was became common knowledge, though the true secrets of these secret societies were far from public view (Gardiner, n.d.).

The Hell’s Angels didn’t start out by being an outlaw biker gang, but they just seemed to fit into that roll. Once having grown outside the boundaries of California by opening charters further east, the club began gaining national recognition on it’s own. As with all groups, there will always be members that cause trouble. Once the club had started gaining a reputation for roughhousing and illegal activity, the whole group was labeled as bad, and it seemed to attract members of this nature.

Movies started filling the theaters glamorizing the biker lifestyle, a few even included members of the Hell’s Angles themselves. Hell’s Angels ’69 included the Oakland Chapter President, Ralph “Sonny” Barger and several other members of the Oakland Chapter. Another movie, Hell’s Angels on Wheels, and a book by Hunter Thompson called Hell's Angel, the Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, both added to the mystique. By the mid 1970’s, dozens of movies have been released on the subject of motorcycle gangs, many with the name “Angels” in the title. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s outlaw bikers started becoming folk heroes, much like Jesse James or Billy the Kid.

Sonny Barger, who founded the Oakland Chapter of the Hell’s Angels, is probably the most famous member of the group. Though many believe that he is the overall leader of the organization, Sonny claims that he was only the Oakland Chapter President and nothing more (Barger, 2000, p.247). The group claims to be completely separated clubs with the same name, all functioning as one though a process “more democratic that the U.S. Government” (Winter, n.d.).

The Hell’s Angels have many rules for membership, though only a few are allowed to be made public. The rules are taken very seriously, and infractions could cost the offending member his membership within the club. One of the most ominous rules revolves around the “Death’s Head” patch that all full members wear. The patch, or “Colors,” is worn by all members, but does not belong to the individual. It belongs to the club and once an individual is no longer a member it must be returned to the club. The club has been known to even sue prior members to get the colors back. The patch is a symbol of the club, and is even a registered trademark. Members never allow another to wear their patch, and the members must retain positive control of their patch at all times. In the early years of the club it was allowed that members could have their female partners wear the patch while riding on the back of a members bike in order to show the colors on the road, but this rule has been changed and only members can wear their patches (Barger, 2002, p.43).

If a member lays his colors down somewhere, and a ranking member of the organization picks it up, the offending member will be fined heavily. This is probably one of the strongest rules in the club. Members cannot take the patch from another member, as if removing his membership. Only officers within the organization can take the patch from a member, and this action must be voted on. To do so without authority is a serious offense within the club (Barger, 2000, pp. 45-46).

Though it is not disputed that members of the Hell’s Angels deal drugs and firearms, they do argue that it done as an organized unit. In 1978, an infiltrator within the Hell’s Angels gathered evidence that the Hell’s Angels functioned much like organized crime. The RICO law, short for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, allowed law enforcement to prosecute entire organizations for the actions of individuals within the organization on the belief that they functioned as a unit. This federal statute was part of the Organized Crime Control Act package passed by congress in 1970 (Barger, 2000, p.209). Though some members of the club did serve time because of this act, including Sonny Barger himself, the club has never been found guilty of racketeering, and after a lengthy trial, none of the Hell’s Angels were found guilty (Barger, 2000, pp. 226-227).

The Hell’s Angels, good or bad, are certainly a representation of a counter-culture within the major cultures of the world. They live by their own rules, and govern their own members through, what they claim, a democratic process that rivals that of the United States Government. Love them or hate them, they are most likely here to stay. Though no longer in the limelight, they are certainly out there and stronger than ever.

Barger, R. (2000). Hell’s Angel. New York: Sonny Barger Productions.
Barger, R. (2002). Ridin’ High, Living Free. New York: Sonny Barger Productions.
Gardiner, M., (n.d.)The Real Wild Ones – The 1947 Motorcycle Riot. Retrieved on May 16, 2008 from

Hell’s Angels. (n.a.)(n.d.) Retrieved on May 18, 2008 from

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Understanding Childhood Sexual Abuse
A young girl cries in her room and begins scratching her arm or leg until it bleeds. She calls herself Emo, short for emotive or emotional. She may try alcohol or drugs at a young age. She may even go further and try to kill herself. Yet, in all this turmoil, she fails to tell anyone what the problem may be. Talking about the problem may seem unimaginable, or impossible. Even her closest friends know nothing of what might be going on, other than the girl is a bit odd. Though the possible causes for such behavior could be any number of things, these symptoms often point to childhood sexual abuse, and recognizing them early is critical.

On the average, one in five girls has experienced some form of childhood sexual abuse, including rape (Levenkron & Levenkron, 2007, p. 11). Often the offender is a family member, whether it be a father, brother, or step-father or step-brother. Teachers, mentors, trusted members of the community can all be suspect. It is because of this that getting victims to open up is difficult.

In the 1800’s, childhood sexual abusers were rarely convicted due to the mistaken belief that young girls could not be raped. It was also not believed that any woman could be raped if they didn’t allow it. In a book published in the 1890’s entitled Medical Jurisprudence, Forensic Medicine, and Toxicology, it was written that “a fully matured woman, in full possession of her faculties, cannot be raped, contrary to her desire, by a single man” (Bourke, 2007, p. 25). Victims had no where to turn, no one to believe them, and no one to defend them if they spoke up. Lawyers wouldn’t take the case because rape cases could rarely be won. Women were suspected of lying about such abuse, and in a male dominated society they had no chance at justice.

Today we have learned that women have in fact been victimized. Sadly, it has not been limited to the mature adult women of our society. Young girls, even toddlers and babies are not safe from predators. We are, however, able to recognize the symptoms of abuse, and if acted on quickly enough, we can minimize the damage done in an effort to allow these poor souls to lead productive and happy lives.

The symptoms of childhood sexual abuse can be broken down into several major categories. They are self mutilation, aggressively seductive or fearful of others, feeling guilt over sexual arousal, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, early alcohol or drug addictions, sleeplessness, recurring nightmares, and mood or anxiety disorders.

Self mutilation can take many forms. The most common is cutting. Cutting takes on two forms. The most common is what is referred to as delicate cutters, where the abused takes to scratching oneself with a sharp, or sharpened object to draw a small amount of blood. The victim sees this as a pain that they can control. Often they make several scratches on the first layer of their skin, and though scaring is possible, these usually heal without a trace of the act. Gross cutters use sharp objects such as knives or razor blades to cut deeper into the skin which may lead to scarring. Often this action is mistaken for acts of committing suicide. As with delicate cutters, the abused looks upon this act as a pain that they can control.

Abuse victims often become either overly seductive, or fearful of others. This is often reflected in their dress by either dressing overly seductively, or dressing down to hide their features.
Often, as the abused reaches maturity, they feel a sense of guilt over feelings of sexual arousal. They associate the normal, pleasurable feelings they experience with the feelings they may have had when they were being abused. This can cause sexual dysfunction, displeasure, and feelings of guilt.

Eating disorders are very common among sexually abused children. The symptoms range from anorexia; abstaining from eating, bulimia; eating and then regurgitating, and compulsive overeating.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is very common among the sexually abused.
Alcoholism and drug addiction at an early age is another symptom of the sexually abused child. The child looks at this as a means of escape in much the same way as someone would use these vices to escape any other problem in life. The sexually abused child might display signs of addiction sooner than the average adolescent.

It is not uncommon for the sexually abused child to show signs of sleeplessness. They often stay up later watching television, writing poetry or in a journal, or just lying awake. Though often tired, sleep does not come. When sleep does come, it may often be accompanied by nightmares.
Many sexually abused children face mood or anxiety disorders brought on by low self esteem, guilt, and shame.

The treatment of the sexually abused child is not cut and dried. It is important to break through the victim’s protective shell. We must find a way into their guarded world in order to break down the walls that they have set up to protect themselves. We must find the way to relieve them of their psychosis, mood disorders, and anxiety.

Statistically, as the victims of sexual child abuse face a tough road. Often as they grow into adulthood they find themselves in failed relationships. The often become alcoholics or drug abusers. Some turn to lesbianism to combat the feelings of fear and resentment towards the male gender. If caught early enough the abused will have a better than average chance at leading a normal life. Childhood sexual abuse, though not preventable, is detectable, identifiable, and with the proper amount of care and caring, survivable.

Levenkron, S. & Levenkron, A. (2007). Stolen Tomorrows: Understanding and Treating Women’s Childhood Sexual Abuse. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Bourke, J. (2007). Rape: Sex Violence History. Great Britain: Virago Press

Watkins, C. (Ed). (2007). At Issue: Date Rape. Farmington Hills: Greenhaven Press