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Jewish World Review April 2, 2002 / 20 Nisan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

'No, no, please, that's for hitting people' | The 8-year-old girl needed to be "trained."

That is what came out in court testimony during the trial in Dane County, Wis., of Olga L. Jaramillo, 26, accused of forcing her daughter to be a slave for Jaramillo, Jaramillo's boyfriend Mauro M. Lopez, 36, and the couple's 5-year-old son.

A cousin of Jaramillo testified in front of Judge David Flanagan and a jury that Jaramillo had told him the girl needed "training" for her bad behavior. Even though Jaramillo had asserted her rights to the girl, and had her removed from a home where the child had been cared for by a grandmother, she later told the cousin that "she didn't love [the child], that she couldn't bear having her in her house."

It was the 5-year-old son of Jaramillo and Lopez who may have saved the child's life. Jaramillo had been saying that the girl no longer lived with her -- that she had been sent to live in Mexico. But on one of the visits by the cousin to the apartment on Rosenberry Road -- after the cousin had again been told by Jaramillo that the girl was not there -- the 5-year-old boy pushed the girl out of the bedroom, where she had been hidden.

The girl was covered with bruises, scratches and welts. The long, dark hair of which she had been so proud had been shaved off. "She looked very scared to me," the cousin testified. He hugged her, he said: "She felt very cold to me."

This was the beginning of her rescue. The girl told police and medical workers about the months of beatings and torture by her mother and Lopez -- beatings to punish her for not doing a good enough job of cleaning the house, washing the dishes and cooking for the family. She told of being made to eat off the floor while the rest of the family ate their meals at a table, and of being made to sleep on the floor while the others slept in beds.

Lopez, in exchange for a no-contest plea to 11 charges concerning the beating and confinement of the girl, was guaranteed that prosecutors would recommend a prison sentence of no more than 20 years. Jaramillo elected to go to trial; among the witnesses called by Dane County Assistant District Attys. Mary Ellen Karst and Barbara Franks were teachers who knew the girl before she went to live with Jaramillo and Lopez -- and after.

The child was an eager, happy, good-natured student before Jaramillo and Lopez took her, the first teacher testified. But a teacher who taught the girl in the brief time after Jaramillo and Lopez obtained custody of her, but before they pulled her out of school, said the girl she knew was quiet and withdrawn. And a third teacher testified that the girl became upset when she saw a photograph in a clothing store advertisement: a picture of a belt.

The teacher said the girl cried: "No, no, please, that's for hitting people."

A psychiatrist testified that it took him only one session to know the child was suffering from great psychological harm. He compared his encounter with the child to what accident investigators see at the site of a grisly crash:

"If confronted with a person who is mangled, it doesn't take long to find that the person is very seriously injured. In this case, a long examination wasn't necessary, because the problems were so blatant, so manifest."

The star witness was the child herself -- both on videotape and in person. She told the jury what had happened to her during her months of enslavement. Olga Jaramillo, who had planned to testify in her own defense, chose not to.

This month Jaramillo was found guilty of 17 criminal charges that could put her in prison for more than 200 years. She and Lopez are awaiting sentencing.

The girl, now 9, is in foster care.

As we have reported these cases of children whose punishment is so brutal that no court would ever be allowed to order such discipline against an adult criminal -- the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment protects citizens from the kind of torment inflicted upon children by the men and women who are supposed to care for them -- many readers have asked if there are ways to help.

Next, we will have some answers to that question.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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