A Child Called "It" book cover

A Child Called "It"

by Dave Pelzer

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How many types of abuse did Dave suffer from?

The book discusses three types of abuse: physical, emotional, and verbal.

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In what is referred to as one of the worst cases of child abuse in California history, David Pelzer's mother abused him in numerous ways.

Physical Abuse

David's mother abuses him in numerous ways, but things really begin to pick up in intensity when she holds his arm over the stove:

“You’ve made my life a living hell!” she sneered. “Now it’s time I showed you what hell is like!” Gripping my arm, Mother held it in the orangeblue flame. My skin seemed to explode from the heat. I could smell the scorched hairs from my burnt arm. As hard as I fought, I could not force Mother to let go of my arm...Mother then ordered me to climb up onto the stove and lie on the flames so she could watch me burn. I refused, crying and pleading. I felt so scared I stomped my feet in protest. But Mother continued to force me on top of the stove. I watched the flames, praying the gas might run out. Suddenly I began to realize the longer I could keep myself off the top of the stove, the better my chances were for staying alive.

David has to learn to think quickly and far beyond his years in order to survive the forms of physical abuse his mother dreams up. He is forced to steal food because she won't let him eat. She makes him eat his own vomit. She pours ammonia down his throat. David comes to expect that he will have to endure some form of physical abuse every day and lives in dreadful anticipation, never knowing what form it will take.

Emotional Abuse

David's mother controls the family so completely that David has no emotional support from anyone in his family. When his mother "accidentally" stabs him and David is sure he is going to die, he goes to his father, bleeding, for help. His father's reaction stuns him:

"Does Mother know that you’re here talking to me? You better go back in there, and do the dishes. Damn it boy, we don’t need to do anything that might make her more upset! I don’t need to go through that tonight…” Father stopped for a second, took a deep breath and lowered his voice, whispering, “I tell you what; you go back in there and do the dishes. I won’t even tell her that you told, okay? This will be our little secret. Just go back in the kitchen and do the dishes. Go on now, before she catches the both of us. Go!”

I stood before Father in total shock. He didn’t even look at me.

David's mother has forbidden the rest of the family from even saying his name, referring to David only as "the boy" or "it," but it is at this point that David understands how totally and completely alone he is. If he is going to survive, it will be through his own will and individual resolution. David's mother has succeeded in creating a hellish, emotionally bankrupt environment.

Verbal Abuse

Again, David's mother hurls verbal insults at him throughout the book. Near the end, a social services employee comes to the house to investigate potential abuse, and David doesn't answer the questions to his mother's satisfaction:

When the lady was clearly gone, Mother closed the door in a rage. “You little shit!” she screamed.

This launches her once again into a physical assault on David.

Another time, close to Christmas, David's mother is particularly cruel in stripping away her son's hopes of the upcoming Christmas season:

One day I rushed home to show off a school paper. Mother threw me into her bedroom, yelling about a letter she had received from the North Pole. She claimed the letter said that I was a “bad boy” and Santa would not bring me any gifts for Christmas. Mother raged on and on, saying that I had embarrassed the family again.

David already suffers his mother's various forms of abuse, and in this instance she preys on his very sense of childlike hope, stripping him of it as she labels him a "bad boy" whom Santa could never love or bring gifts to.

Amazingly, David survives all this abuse and escapes to a better life thanks to the insight of his teachers and administrators.

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In A Child Called "It," David suffers an immense number of tortures at the hands of his abusive mother, siblings, and complacent father. David suffers extreme physical, emotional, and psychological torture as his mother beats him, forces him to injure himself, degrades him, neglects him, starves him, imprisons him, blames him for the immense torture he endures, and withholds any form of affection from him.

Learning from their mother, Davids siblings also participate in abusing him. David's father simply allows the abuse to happen and merely observes from a distance as his son endures several horrific forms of torture on a daily basis. David eventually internalizes the abuse and begins to believe his mother's statements that he is the cause of his own suffering. Thankfully, David is finally rescued by his teachers.

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After reading A Child Called "It," anyone can see that Pelzer suffered from almost every type of abuse a parent would be capable of inflicting. From the ages of four to twelve, Pelzer's life was filled with physical, psychological, and emotional torment. Pelzer writes that his alcoholic mother seemed to think of the abuse as a game, and his distant father did little and less to mediate these horrific conflicts.

Pelzer's mother committed several atrocious acts of physical abuse. These included starving him, forcing him to drink ammonia, burning and stabbing him, making him eat his own vomit, and even forcing his face into a used diaper. Pelzer's mother furthered the abuse by psychologically manipulating Pelzer into thinking he deserved it and keeping him isolated from others. This forced Pelzer into a state of dependence until age twelve, when his teachers intervened and helped him into foster care.

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Dave was tortured at the hands of his mother. She physically, mentally, and emotionally abused him from an early age. She beat him, starved him, and berated him in early childhood. When his mother hurt him, she made him say that it was all his fault and that he was a bad boy. One incident that stands out occurred when Dave's mother thought he was being too loud and rubbed Dave's face in his brother's dirty diaper as punishment. This kind of abuse scarred Dave for the majority his life.

This emotional and psychological abuse caused Dave to have low self-esteem and feel a lot of guilt. Dave thought he was the cause of his mother's abuse; he watched his mother treat his siblings well and with affection. By keeping Dave isolated from other people, his mother weakened him and made him more dependent on her, adding to the abuse. Only after he was rescued by his teachers was Dave able to begin healing and moving on from the horrible treatment his mother inflicted.

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