A child born into a loving home never lacking for food, shelter, or affection. To good to be true? Yes, in the case of David Pelzer in the inspirational autobiography, A Child Called “It” One Child’s Courage to Survive.

A Child Called “It” One Child’s Courage to Survive, is the story of a young boy, David Pelzer, as readers, we follow and watch him grow in a house of mental anguish and abuse by a sick woman who happened to also be his mother. Between the ages of four and twelve, David was subjected to sick punishments and games that would psychologically warp even the strongest of adults.

“When Mother decided that the “corner treatment” was no longer effective, I graduated to the “mirror treatment.” In the beginning, it was a no-notice form of punishment. Mother would simply grab me and smash my face against the mirror, smearing my tear-streaked face on the slick, reflective glass. The she would order me to say over and over again, “I’m a bad boy! I’m a bad boy! I’m a bad boy!” I was then forced to stand, staring into the mirror” (pgs. 30-31).

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This was only the beginning, David learned at a young age that he could no longer seek protection, solace, and love at home. So school became a safe place for David, until his mother’s sick games of dressing him in rags and not allowing hygiene of any sort soon becomes a problem. This earned David tormenting nicknames such as “David Smellzer” from some of the kids in his class. He was forced to steal food from school lunches, grocery stores, the cafeteria, or beg for them because he was deprived of food at home. Later, his mother would force him to regurgitate this food and punish him further for being a bad boy and stealing it.

Due to his stealing of food, and obvious lack in personal hygiene, the school began to take notice of David and his welfare. Soon after learning that calling David’s mother was a bad idea, the school nurse began to take a special interest in David. Checking him out everyday before he went to class just to see how he was and to record any new bruises etc. School, although no longer a happy place for David, it was still safer than home with his mother. His mother at this point only discussing him with the exclusive family as “the boy”, would play torturous and dangerous games she would read about in magazines.

For example using the mixture of ammonia and Clorox to create a homemade gas chamber in your bathroom, or the burning of a child on a hot stove. David’s mother became fond of these ideas, as David became further estranged from his brothers and his father who were forced to take his mother’s side in fear of their own punishment. David slowly began to realize how to stall his mother during these attempts, but even with this knowledge, David’s mother accidentally stabbed him once, took care of him ( she wanted to be a nurse), and then forced him to continue the family’s chores without so much as an, “I’m sorry.”

His father, who he once saw as a hero that would promise that one day the two of them would escape his mother, was now nothing more than a hollow shell scared of his mother. David did not give up his will to live, and though living in the basement and starving on days on end, David did live. David’s elementary school nurse and teachers took it upon themselves to rescue David when he was twelve years old and they had finally decided they had had enough! David was taken off of school property by the police and driven away to freedom. “The officer smiles with relief, as we leave the city limits. “David Pelzer,” he says, “you’re free.”

The case of David Pelzer is a classic example of Interpretive Reproduction Theory, or IRT. David Pelzer was the prime socializing agent of himself. He used conversations him and his father would have to fuel his goal of being free, he also learned that by stalling his mother during her insane attempts of torture would calm her down and give him a better chance of freedom. Also, he probably learned on his family camping trips, how when around smoke you wet a rag and cover your mouth, this information he exemplified during his mother’s “gas chamber” attempts. Also, after being stabbed, he knew to remove the puss from his infected wounds due to something his mother probably used to share stories about when she used to speak of nursing. These are example of him applying learned knowledge to his own goals and actually acting them out for himself.

David Pelzer learned how to survive in a basement, on a cot, with no food or water, or company. He learned to live on his own, and it was this knowledge that helped him live and keep his strength up while still in his pre-existing sociological situation, living under his mother’s roof in her home with “the family.”

David both created and was affected by social change when he started telling the school nurse of the tortures his mother had put him through. The nurse then told the principal, the principal told the police, and David soon became free in terms of is mother. He was affected by his own social change he created.

For David to be brought to freedom, a compromise had to take place between the adults that worked at the elementary school and David himself. David had to learn to trust them enough to tell his story and make them understand how dire his situation was and how badly he needed salvation from it. The administration, on the other hand, had to choose whether or not to believe this child over his mother’s word, and to also believe his need to be rescued enough to risk their jobs over it. This compromise took place, and then and only then was David allowed to be free. Child and adults working as partners, as equals.

Child Abuse, when covered in class, is defined as “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in, death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or; an act or failure to act which presents imminent risk or serious harm.” David applies to this definition, he also can be applied to 3 of the 4 abuse categories: neglect, physical, and emotional abuse.

He never was forced to endure sexual abuse. In David’s case, him being male put him as being more susceptible to physical abuse, but the fact that it was his mother who was the the perpetrator of his abuse made his situation more rare due to the fact she was a woman. Also the fact that he endured physical abuse so young made him a rarity; normally young abused children are primarily neglect. In David’s case the school staff worked as sentinels (which is now part of the job, but wasn’t at the time), and another rarity is how quickly David’s case was handled by the police. His teacher’s doing their job was what saved his life. Dave Pelzer dedicates his book to them.

The abuse of David Pelzer began in 1966 and ended in 1978 in the span of this book. Many statistics and other child abuse information have been updated since then. For example: During the latter 1960’s physicians were mandated by laws that said they had to report child abuse cases. Later during the 1970s the law was continued including social workers, teachers, and a range of health service professionals as mandated reporters. This was all under The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974. Now, The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1995 has changed the nature of the federal commitment in child abuse and neglect and may affect future state legislation, and has as more legislation has been passed into the late 1990’s to now.

The David Pelzer case is considered the third worst child abuse case in California history. His case took place during what was considered the second wave of the child rescue movement (1970-1990’s). The first wave took place during the 19th C., and today we are on the third wave. Still creating new legislation to keep our children safe as a society.

A Child Called “It” One Child’s Courage to Survive, is considered an inspirational story to many. How a young child can go through hell and still want to live. To many this story is more than that. It is a depiction of an abuse that is all too familiar in our society. An abuse caused by sick people left without treatment, which cause their children pain and suffering beyond normal imagination.

The reported case of David Pelzer caused California, and now that his story is published, it has caused the world to once again open their eyes and their ears to the children who have cried out in pain. All of these children have lives and stories; many do not live long enough to tell their own. Through legislation passed and knowledge and recognition gained in society through this kind of book, hopefully these stories will dwindle and not the children. A child can only be saved when it is no longer considered “a child”, but “our child.” No longer an “it”, but a person.


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