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Jewish World Review April 5, 2002 / 24 Nisan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

How you can help
to stop the torment | What can you do?

That is the question many of you have been asking in the days since the reports began here about the cruel and unusual punishment of children -- the very kind of punishment from which the Constitution protects adults. The constitutional guarantee addresses the discipline handed out by courts or governmental agencies -- and thus does not protect children brutalized privately, in the name of punishment, by the adults who are supposed to care for them.

Sometimes all of this seems hopeless -- the stories keep getting worse -- but hope is worth searching for; hope, in the end, is all that any of us have. It's what gets us up in the morning.

If you would like to help -- if these reports have angered you and kept you awake at night -- here are several suggestions.

  • The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) organization may be the best program in the United States devoted to helping abused and neglected children who get lost in the courts system.

    CASA volunteers are professionally trained -- and are then appointed by judges to follow the case of a specific child through the courts, and to speak to the court on the child's behalf. This is difficult, serious work -- no one should decide to do it on a whim. Once you are assigned to a child, you are his or her best advocate. You can save a child's life if you do your work with devotion.

    CASA is a national organization -- there are CASA programs in every state. If you would like information about joining -- and again, this is not something to get into lightly -- the telephone number is 1-800-628-3233.

  • If you think a child is being hurt in a criminal way, most states have hotlines set up by child protective agencies. If you don't know whether you should make the call, you should make the call. Tell the person on the other end of the line what is troubling you about what you have seen; the person will tell you what to do next.

    If directory assistance tells you it is unsure of what number you should call, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. The person who answers will put you in touch with someone in your state who can get help for a child being hurt.

  • There is an organization called Prevent Child Abuse America that has information about how you can help children who are being tormented. You can learn about this group at their Web site (, or contact them at 1-800-CHILDREN.

  • You can -- and should -- try to persuade court officials in your state to allow into evidence videotaped testimony of children who have been tortured. This makes it less traumatic and more humane for a child to tell what has happened to him or her than if he or she has to testify while the accused abuser stares at the witness stand. So many times, these cases dissolve because the children who have been tortured are terrified to speak while the person who has hurt them is a few feet away, glaring.

    There are all kinds of safeguards with videotaped testimony that make certain the accused abusers' rights are protected in court. Yet in some jurisdictions, if the children are too fragile to speak in the presence of the people arrested for torturing them, the children lose again. In Dane County, Wis., where the videotaped testimony of the 8-year-old girl brutalized by her mother, Olga L. Jaramillo, was allowed, Jaramillo was convicted and faces a potential sentence of more than 200 years in prison. In Lincoln County, Neb., where the 7-year-old son of torturer Sean Von Eric Marshall was deemed too afraid to testify with Marshall sitting close to him, and where the child was not allowed to testify on videotape, Marshall avoided trial and got a plea break of 90 days in the county jail. That's the difference -- the appalling difference -- right there.

  • If no one else will listen, prosecutors and police officers advise: Call 911. If you think you have observed a crime against a child, then treat it as such. If the person who answers doesn't seem to be taking the call seriously, insist on speaking to his or her supervisor. Be relentless -- at that moment, you may be the one person in the world with the power to help the child.

Hopeless? At times it seems so. But as long as you care, and refuse to turn your back, there is no such thing as hopeless. You are hope.

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

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