The Associated Press, August 1, 1999

Girl Treated as Family Slave, Never Went to School, Never Left Home, Beaten Often

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The saga of a teen-age girl who says she spent 14 years trapped and abused as a family slave in her own home may finally be over.

Melissa has toiled since she was 5 years old, cooking and cleaning while never setting foot out of the house or going to school.

She quenched her thirst in a toilet. She was beaten with a belt buckle, forced into a closet as punishment and was allegedly sexually molested, although charges were never filed, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday,

"This is one of the worst cases of abuse I can recall," said Andrew Bridge, executive director of the Alliance for Children's Rights.

The newspaper, which relied on court documents and interviews with the El Monte teen-ager, family members and child welfare professionals, agreed not to use last names of Melissa or her siblings because they are alleged victims of sexual molestation. Their last names are different from their mother's.

No charges have been filed in Melissa's case, although police say they are renewing their investigation into her stepfather, who had been arrested twice for investigation of hurting family members.

Welfare workers temporarily seized her and her siblings after discovering signs of child abuse while she was still very young.

But it wasn't until two years ago that authorities intervened again, after her older half-sister Gloria went to them.

Suffering from slight mental retardation and cerebral palsy, Melissa is now living with Gloria and learning to read, write and make her way in the outside world.

"Almost unbelievably ... Melissa had never been to school, had never left the family home, and never had normal exposure to the environment," Kevin Stapleton, Melissa's court-appointed attorney, wrote in an August 1998 brief filed in guardianship proceedings.

"I am further informed and believe that Melissa was totally denied a traditional upbringing and was treated like a 'slave' by her mother and stepfather," he continued.

Melissa, now 19, said, "I know my mom did wrong not sending me to school. ... She take me in the bathroom. She'd hit me with a belt buckle. She make me go in the closet a lot."

"I don't want to see my mom," Melissa said.

The mother, Maria Salcedo, 41, said by telephone from her home that she regrets mistreating Melissa. She denies her daughter was sexually abused or treated like a slave, saying all her children had chores to do.

"I used to abuse Melissa. It was my mistake when I used to mistreat Melissa. I cry every day," Salcedo said. "To be honest with you, I did something sick."

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.

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