Riding for a Voice Event Aims to Raise Sexual Assault Awareness

Photo: Supported by her mother, Robin Bouchard, and stepfather, John Bouchard, is Kayla Garriott (center), the primary founder and organizer of Riding for a Voice, an annual event to raise awareness of sexual assault. The event, now in its 6th year, will be held on July 22nd. (Facebook photo)

By Lura Jackson

Coming forward to family, friends, and the authorities about being sexually abused is one of the most psychologically challenging acts an individual can undergo, particularly when the victim is a child and the offender is a family member. Kayla Garriott, who was abused for seven years between the ages of 10 and 17 by her biological father in Robbinston, knows that challenge firsthand. Happily, Garriott not only faced the challenge, she embraced it – as evidenced by her ongoing commitment to raising awareness of incest, rape, and sexual abuse to help empower those who are undergoing or have undergone such trauma. Every year, Garriott and a contingent of family and close friends organize Breathe the Air: Riding for a Voice, an awareness raising event aimed at breaking the silence that surrounds sexual assault crimes. The sixth annual event will be held on July 22nd beginning at the Calais Motor Inn.

“It is about bringing people together and talking about change,” expressed Garriott. “It is about giving others a chance to share their stories and heal.” Participants in the event gather at the Calais Motor Inn to hear speeches, meet old friends and find new ones, and to learn about the resources available to victims and survivors before setting off in a mostly-motorcycles motorcade. The motorcade travels to Cohill’s in Lubec and then returns to Calais.

“This is a wonderful event,” said Jodi Leach of AMHC Sexual Assault Services. Every year, AMHC has had a table at the event; this year, Garriott’s donation of collected funds will be given to AMHC and specific donations of items are being requested to assist in the organization’s trauma recovery groups. “It’s definitely breaking the silence. Those bikes are loud!” Leach said with a laugh. “It shows that somebody that’s been a victim can also be a powerful survivor… Even though these are bikers, they have a soft spot for people who have been hurt, especially for children. It shows them that they can have a voice and they don’t need to be afraid.”

Having AMHC present at the event is significant for individuals looking for local resources. “We didn’t know about AMHC when Kayla was going through this,” said Robin Bouchard, Garriott’s mother. “I didn’t know there was someone local. I wish I would’ve known that at the time.”

AMHC’s “Begin by Believing” trauma recovery groups are held periodically throughout Washington County based on interest. The groups often involve simple crafts including coloring or making playdoh creations, anything that “helps distract from the trauma,” Leach explained. Donations of crafting items can be brought to the event or to AMHC at any time. AMHC also provides support to sexual assault victims who are at the hospital. Some of the common needs for such victims are clothing that fits a wide range of body types, flip flops, and toiletries. Lastly, AMHC assists victims who are attending court; for those situations, they are looking for donations of gas cards, coffee cards, fidget spinners, or fidget rings. To express interest in the trauma recovery group or to request an advocate from AMHC, call 1-800-871-7741 and leave your name and town of residence.

AMHC is among the numerous allies that Garriott has recruited in her quest to raise awareness. Area veterans always come to support the event, which is officially launched by local American Legion Commander Mike McLean, and BIKERS AGAINST CHILD ABUSE® [BACA] has been supporting Riding for a Voice since its second year. 

“We call BACA our extended family because they’re on the same mission we are,” said Bouchard. Every year, about two dozen BACA members travel to the event from the Maine chapter in Portland and the Moncton chapter in New Brunswick.

“Our mission is to empower children to not feel afraid of the world they live in,” shared Bonzai, the public relations officer of the Portland chapter. Like the other members of BACA and the children they support, Bonzai utilizes a road name to protect them from vengeful perpetrators and other offenders. “We deal directly with abused boys and girls all across the state.”

When BACA is informed of a potential victim, they interview the family. If they determine there is a need, they “patch” the child in to the organization, providing them with a vest, road name, customized patch, and a back patch of their choice, along with a teddy bear that comes pre-filled with love and hugs from BACA members. “We tell them that when the love gets low we’ll come back and fill it back up,” Bonzai said. Two BACA members are appointed as primary supports of each affected child.

“It’s really difficult for us,” said Bonzai of his organization’s efforts. “We’re glad we’re here, but we hate that we have to be here. It’s tragic that we even have to exist.”

For BACA, participating in Riding for a Voice is an important expression of their support for Garriott and other survivors. “Not a lot of kids turn out the way that Kayla did,” Bonzai said. “She’s extremely empowering. That’s something we really appreciate.” For more information about BACA, visit www.bacaworld.org.

Registering for Riding for a Voice costs $20 for one person or $35 for two people. Everyone that registers will be given an event-specific tee-shirt and is entered to win two tickets for the Drop Kick Murphy’s concert in Bangor and $75 cash. The event will include a Chinese raffle of numerous items, including gift certificates to local businesses, items from Rachel Ashley Jewelers, and a year subscription to The Calais Advertiser. Some local businesses are running specific promotions to benefit the event, such as Rachel Ashley Jewelers, which is taking preorders on teal awareness ribbons until July 10th. Every purchase contributes $5 to the cause. 

Registration begins at 9 a.m. in the Calais Motor Inn parking lot. The ride begins at 10. All vehicles are welcome to participate.  

Supporters of Riding for a Voice create a motorcade of over a hundred vehicles as they drive from Calais to Lubec and back. This year's Riding for a Voice will be held on July 22nd. (Facebook photo)