A Child Called "It" book cover

A Child Called "It"

by Dave Pelzer

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What happens to the mother in A Child Called "It"?

Quick answer:

The mom in A Child Called "It," Catherine Roevra Pelzer, was not formally charged with child abuse. The author was removed from her care by the police, but no further legal action was taken against her.

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Most readers of A Child Called It would assume that after the police had seen the signs of physical abuse on the author's body and decided that he must be separated from his mother, she would be prosecuted. However, Catherine Roevra Pelzer was not tried for her crimes and served no jail time. The author says that he has met her as an adult, and that she confessed that, if he had not escaped, she would eventually have killed him.

If Catherine Pelzer had killed her son and the police had collected enough evidence, she would have been tried for murder. However, in the early 1970s, child abuse was not commonly acknowledged. The principal and teachers who called in the police knew they were risking their jobs by making it a legal matter. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was passed in 1974, the year after Dave Pelzer was taken away from his mother and, from that point onwards, people started to become more aware of child abuse as a crime. One of the reasons Pelzer gives for writing his memoir is to raise consciousness of child abuse and to suggest what action people should take if they suspect that it is occurring.

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What was wrong with the mother in A Child Called "It"?

A Child Called "It" is written from the perspective of a child. Pelzer details the years of horrific abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother, Catherine Roerva Pelzer, but gives no psychological or medical explanation for her actions. He refers to her alcoholism and to her mood swings. Sometimes, Mrs. Pelzer would treat her son kindly, only to return suddenly and arbitrarily to her former abusive behavior. She also varied between neglect and selfishness, apparently forgetting her son's existence, to active sadistic torture, smearing his face with excrement or burning his arm.

It is important to note that the author's mother generally took care to hide the extent of her abuse from others, even her husband and other children. However, it was clear that, at the very least, the author was being neglected, since he was sent to school in the same unwashed clothes each day, and often had to steal food to survive.

Even trained psychiatrists would be wary of offering a diagnosis based on a third-person account of someone's behavior, and it is not clear what, if any, mental illness affected Catherine Roerva Pelzer. She appears to have been addicted to alcohol, but this alone would scarcely explain her treatment of her son. She remains for the reader a figure of pure malevolence and is all the more frightening because her conduct is unexplained.

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