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Child Abuse

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A thesis paper on child abuse with a look into Dave Pelzers autobiography “United States more than three children die as a result of child abuse in the home. That is more than 1,000 children a year and most of these children are under the age of six. (http://www.childhelpusa.org/child/links.htm) You may be wondering, what exactly is child abuse? Of what does it consist? Are there different types? What are the signs? Read on to find all the answers and take a look into the life of Dave Pelzer who was a victim of child abuse. Also, do not forget to read child protection and preventive services to find out how to protect and prevent child abuse in your area. Child abuse is widespread and needs to be not only acknowledged but curtailed. When people conceive child abuse many think of physical harm and nothing else. They think of external or internal bruises, burns, fractures, wounds or poisoning and do not conceptualize actions of sexual molestation or neglect.

In 1995 the American Medical Association stated, “Child abuse occurs if a person who has the care or custody of a child causes or allows the child to suffer any of the following: physical harm, such as external or internal bruises, burns, fractures, wounds, brain damage or poisoning; malnutrition (including dehydration) or mental ill-heath of a degree that if not immediately remedied could seriously impair growth and development or result in permanent injury or death; or sexual molestation.”(Snyder, Check, and Koop 15-16 ). Health Canada states, “Child abuse occurs when a parent, guardian or caregiver [sic] mistreats or neglects a child, resulting in injury, or significant emotional or psychological harm, or serious risk of harm to the child.”

While children of all ages are at risk of child abuse, those three years old or less are most frequently investigated for neglect. Neglect originates when the child’s parents or other care- givers fail to provide the essential conditions to a child’s emotional, psychological and physical growth. Physical neglect takes place when the child’s needs for food, clothing, shelter, cleanliness, medical care and protection from harm are not sufficiently met. While a case of physical assault is more inclined to come to the attention of public authorities, neglect and emotional abuse can exemplify an equally crucial risk to a child.(Province of Nova Scotia 3-4) Children aged twelve to fifteen are most frequently investigated for physical or emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is one of the most widespread and destructive forms of child abuse. Making fun of a child, name calling, always finding faults, and showing no respect can damage a child’s self-esteem. Signs of an emotional abuse case may consist of the child finding it hard to make friends, he may avoid playing with other children, may have a tendency to be pushy and hostile, may have a hard time learning, be excessively active, or have problems such as bed-wetting or soiling.

The child may also act falsely grown up, or have to care for adults or others far beyond what should be expected for the child’s age. When emotional abuse happens for an extended time period there can be a lifelong impact on the child. He may become gloomy, depressed and unable to enjoy himself. He might do self-destructive things that work against him and he may even attempt suicide.(http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cb/publications/cm99/cpt5.htm) Signs of Child Abuse There are many indications you can look for if you believe a child is being abused. The child may cry a lot, seem sad, very tired, talk about trouble sleeping and have reoccurring nightmares. Other things to look for is if the child has unusual injuries or injuries that cannot be explained or displays violent actions toward his pets or other people, for example, fighting with classmates, or acting out in the classroom. He may destroy things or throw toys across a room. Being afraid of parents or other adults, like teachers or baby sitters, and not wanting to go home after school are also other signs for which to look when examining child abuse. Most abusive parents do not intentionally set out to harm their children. If there are efforts to aid distressed families, parents at risk of abusing may be advised and helped before they resort to assault.

Parent who abuse their children may stay away from other mothers and fathers in the community and not take part in school activities. When asked about the injuries of their children they do not want to talk about it or seem nervous when they do. Also, take into account that parents who are poor, sick, were abused as children, have a drinking or drug abuse problem increase the risk of child abuse to their child or children. (http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cb/publications/cm99/cpt5.htm) Dave Pelzer was a victim of and suffered severe emotional, physical child abuse and neglect since the age of five. The case of this individual was and still is one of the most recognized, not only in Californian, but North American history. He was called names, beaten, threatened, starved and neglected by his emotionally unstable alcoholic mother. She played torturous games on Dave which almost took away his life on several accounts. He was given broken bones, was stabbed and brutally abused. Dave was no longer considered part of the Pelzer family, he was later constrained to sleep in the basement on an empty stomach and was referred to as “It” or “The Boy.”

Dave was about four years old when he first noticed his mother started to change. She would spend the day lying on the couch, dressed only in her bathrobe, watching television and got up only to get another drink, some food or to go to the washroom. Dave’s mother would make him continuously search for “lost” things for her and when he could not find them he was put in the corner of the bedroom. It was at this time he became very afraid of his mother. Her attitude toward her son Dave started to change and her voice sent tremors down his spine. After his mother got tired of that form of punishment she then thought of the mirror treatment. His mother would smash his face against the mirror, smearing his tear streaked face on the slick reflective glass. She would then order him to say over and over again I’m a bad boy! I’m a bad boy! He was then forced to stand, staring into the mirror. (Pelzer, 16) This excerpt comes from Dave Pelzer’s autobiography, A Child Called “It”, “With both arms stretched out and raised, Mother came at me. As she came closer and closer, I backed my chair towards the wall. Soon, my head touched the wall. Mother’s eyes were glazed and red, and her breath smelled of booze.

I closed my eyes and the on coming blows began to rock me from side to side. I tried to protect my face with my hands, but mother would only knock them away. Her punches seemed to last forever. Finally, I snaked my left arm up to cover my face. As Mother grabbed my arm, she lost her balance and staggered back a step. As she jerked violently to regain her stability, I heard something pop, and felt an intense pain in my shoulder and arm.”(21-22) Dave’s mother then acted if nothing had happened and summoned him to dinner. He cradled his arm as it began to throb with pain. As he reached for his glass his arm did not respond. He was too afraid to say a word but looked at his mother pleadingly, she ignored him. He was sent to bed early that night. Later that night his mother woke him up and told him he had fallen out of the top bunk during his sleep, she then took him to the doctor and told the same story. Dave’s father also heard the same story later that night. Dave was forced to stand in the basement while his family ate supper every evening.

He was then demanded to wash all the dirty dishes. His mother scraped all the leftover food off the plates and into the garbage. Dave thought of a plan. When his mother was not looking he would take the bits of food out of the garbage and eat them. This only lasted a little while however, his mother found out and then started to sprinkle ammonia into the garbage. When Dave started school he was grateful to get away from his mother for the day. He was made to run to school, his mother knew he would arrive late and not be able to steal any food. At school he was a total outcast. His classmates made songs up about him David the food thief and Pelzer Smellzer. “I had no one to talk or play with. I felt all alone,” (Pelzer, 23) One day Dave came home from school and his mother made him strip off his clothes and stand by the kitchen stove. She claimed she saw him playing on the grass at school and that was considered a forbidden rule by her. He told her he was not on the grass which was true and his mother punched him in the face. She turned on the stove gas burners. “”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 orange-blue flame. My skin seemed to explode from the heat. I could smell scorched hairs from my burnt arm. As hard as I fought, I could not force Mother to let go of my arm. Finally I fell to the floor, on my hands and knees, and tried to blow cool air on my arm. “It’s too bad your drunken father’s not here to save you,” she hissed. 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.”(Pelzer, 24) Once while on vacation his mother made him stay in the cabin with her while his father and brothers went to play on the super slide. She brought out one of his baby brothers soiled diapers, and smeared it on his face. ” After what seemed like an hour, Mother knelt down beside me and in a soft voice said, Eat it. ” (Pelzer, 33) Dave started crying.

She grabbed him and took him to the kitchen where another full diaper was spread on the counter top. She kept telling him to eat it, and when he would not she slammed his face down into the diaper and rubbed it from side to side. Dave resorted to stealing to feed his empty stomach, he got caught for stealing kids lunches so he then resorted to steal frozen lunches from the school’s cafeteria. Proud that he fed himself Dave went home one day with thoughts of stealing food the next day. Once home his plans were demolished. His mother dragged him into the bathroom and punched him in the stomach so hard that he bent over in pain. She pulled him around to face the toilet and ordered him to shove his fingers down his throat. He resisted then his mother rammed her finger into his mouth, he squirmed and tried to fight her off. She only let go when Dave agreed to vomit for her. He closed his eyes as chunks of red meat spilled into the toilet. His mother stood behind him, ” I thought so. Your father’s going to hear about this!” she said. She left the bathroom and returned minutes later with a small bowl, she ordered him to scoop the partially digested food out of the toilet and into the bowl. Later that evening when his father got home his mother showed him the bowl and told him that Dave had stolen food.

Dave’s father tried to stick up for him but that made his mother more angry. “A heated battle of words broke out in front of me and, as always, Mother won. “EAT? You want The Boy to eat, Stephen? Well, The Boy is going to EAT! He can eat this!” Mother yelled at the top of her lungs, shoving the bowl towards me and stomping off to the bedroom.” “I sat on a chair and picked the clumps of hot dogs out of the bowl with my hand. Globs of thick saliva slipped through my fingers, as I dropped it in my mouth. As I tried to swallow, I began to whimper.” “I tried to swallow without tasting, until I felt a hand clamp on the back of my neck. “Chew it!” Mother snarled, “Eat it! Eat it all!” she said pointing to the saliva. I sat deeper in my chair. A river of tears rolled down cheeks. After I had chewed the mess in the bowl I tilted my head back and forced what remained, down my throat. I closed my eyes until I was sure my stomach wasn’t going to reject my cafeteria meal.” (Pelzer, 37-38) His mother then threw a bunch of newspapers at him and informed him they were his blankets and he was to sleep under the table next to a box of kitty litter.

Not to long after that Dave was told he was no longer privileged enough to sleep upstairs, so he was banished to the basement. Dave also went from bloody noses to missing a tooth. On one instance his second grade teacher once questioned the condition of his clothes and his bruises. She reported her concerns to the principal, who knew Dave as the food thief from previous times when he was so hungry he stole food from his classmates to survive. The principal contacted his mother and they had a meeting. Dave’s mother came in holding her newborn son and acted shocked at the whole situation and that someone had accused her of abusing her child. She told the principal that Dave was unusually clumsy, and ever since his brother was born he liked to make things up to get attention, she said he refused to change his clothes on most days and once again her story was believed. Dave got a severe punishment that night. (Pelzer, 61) The abuse continued, Dave tried to run away at the age of nine but was unsuccessful. His father picked him up at the station where he was taken by a police officer and explained that Dave got angry at his mother when she would not let him ride his bike.

Dave did not even have a bike. Yet again another lie was told and believed by someone with authority. (Pelzer, 74) It was on March 5, 1973 when Dave’s prayers were answered. He was 12 years old. His teachers and other staff members at Thomas Edison Elementary School intervened and notified the police. An officer came to the school, picked Dave up and drove him to a police station where the officer filled out some forms and called to inform his mother that he was not coming home that afternoon. “He bent down and said, David, you’re free. Your mother is never going to hurt you again.” (Pelzer, 130) He was then driven to a hospital where he was washed, examined, tested, blood sampled and X-rayed. The officer then took him to a foster home where he would live with a new family of seven foster children. He lived there with some difficulties and was placed into another foster home, but that did not work out either. The last foster home he was placed in was with Alice and Harold Turnbough with whom he stayed happily with no more problems to worry about. His mother was now out of his life once and for all. Child Protection and Preventive Services The following data was collected from Health Canada.

In Canada in 1992, approximately 40,000 children were living in foster care or other settings away from their home of origin because of the intervention of child protection authorities. In Ontario, the number of Children’s Aid Society investigations for child physical abuse increased from 3,546 in 1983 to an estimated 13,236 in 1993. The number of investigations increased by a yearly average of 27 percent over this 10-year period. (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hppb/familyviolence/html/childabueng.html) This data not only shows that child abuse is occurring but that investigative services have grown stronger as shown through an increased number in investigations. Child protection and preventive services are very important to protect and prevent child abuse from happening further to the victim. If a teacher, parent or care giver suspects child abuse is occurring they are required by law to protect the child and report the situation to authorities. If they fail to do so, and it is known they have previous knowledge of the case they can be criminally charged or dealt with in other serious ways.

Protection services include foster care, court services, family based or in home services which are services provided to the entire family, for example, counseling or family support. Prevention is a good interest, in terms of both the direct and social costs that can be conserved. Preventive services include parenting education which can help parents to better apprehend normal child growth and to endure a more nurturing and delightful relationship with their child. Housing assistance, substance abuse treatment, day care, home visits, individual and family counseling, transportation, crisis, and domestic violence are all preventive services. These services are very essential if you suspect child abuse may be taking place. For example, if any form of child abuse is taking place you can go directly to a protective or preventive service and they will help the child by all possible means and also point you in the right direction as to what you can do. Recommendations for strengthening child protection laws include encouragement to your local school board in developing and achieving child abuse prevention programs.

Children who are abused tend to have a persistent pattern of the abuse, and prevention is one of the most successful mediums to stop the sequence of violence. Education is the key, if children know how to recognize and say no to abusive or exploitative behavior they are less likely to become a victim. Children should know that they have the right to be free from abuse and exploitation. If a child tells you about an abusive situation or experience, be supportive. Show the child that you believe him and ensure the incident is straight away reported to the appropriate authorities. Assist the children and adults in your life, find supportive information and assistance to prevent the abusive or neglectful pattern from continuing or developing. Some individuals may say child abuse does not occur. After learning the true definition and forms of child abuse as well as the horrifying events of Dave Pelzer’s life one feels their opinion will change drastically. He lived to tell one of the most atrocious real life stories ever, the events that happened to him are unbelievable and it is a wonder he lived to tell about it. One hopes the above services will continue to do a thorough task of dealing with these situations.


Pelzer. A Child Called “It”, Florida.1995. Health Canada National Clearing House on Family Violence. 1997. Child Abuse and Neglect, Ottawa, Ontario. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hppb/familyviolence/html/childabueng.html Province of Nova Scotia. “Child Abuse Information for Parents,” Nova Scotia. Pamphlet 3.1993. Snyder, Check, and Koop. Child Abuse, United States of America.1995. United States Department of Health and Human Services. 2001. Chapter 5 Services, United States. http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cb/publications/cm99/cpt5.htm U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2001. National Child Abuse Statistics, United States. http://www.childhelpusa.org/child/links.htm

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