The chapter begins with David Pelzer explaining that he was not alone—there were thousands of other abused children in California. Indeed, it’s estimated that one in five children are physically, emotionally, or sexually abused in the United States. Too many people believe that this “abuse” is nothing more than parents exercising their right to discipline their offspring. But the reality is that many parents take out their anger and frustration on their children. Furthermore, many abused children run away from home and wind up homeless. In 1992, there were almost three million reports of child abuse in America.
Although A Child Called “It” is a memoir, Dave Pelzer acknowledges that his experiences aren’t necessarily the same as those of other child abuse victims—indeed, many victims of abuse never escape their parents, or run away and end up living on the streets. In writing such a personal, intimate memoir, however, Pelzer hopes to raise awareness of child abuse and ensure that the public isn’t indifferent or unaware of the suffering of children.
By telling his story, Dave has tried to give a sense for what child abuse is like from the perspective of the abused child. For years, Dave felt like a “loser.” Now, he’s learned how to serve his country—first by serving in the military, and now, by giving seminars and workshops for victims of child abuse. Dave is also proud of being a loving father, “whose only guilt is that of spoiling his son with love and encouragement.” However, Dave reminds readers that there are millions of abused children and traumatized adults in desperate need of help. “Children,” he concludes, “should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”
Although the memoir effectively ends with Dave’s literal departure from his Mother’s house, Pelzer acknowledges that his ordeal didn’t end right away. On the contrary, Dave had to cope with the trauma of abuse long after his bruises and scratches faded away—and perhaps he still has to cope with trauma. However, Dave is immensely proud of having grown into a confident, mature father. He takes great pleasure in raising a happy, carefree child.
In the next portion of the chapter, Steven E. Ziegler, David Pelzer’s former teacher, describes September 1992, the month when Dave reached out to him about the child abuse reports Ziegler made twenty years before. Ziegler was overjoyed to learn that Dave has graduated college and become a successful teacher. Ziegler remembers how naïve he was about child abuse in the early 1970s. Luckily, Ziegler had the good sense to recognize that Dave was clearly being beaten and starved. Ziegler praises Dave for having the courage to write a book about his traumatic experiences, and concludes, “there is absolutely no doubt in my mind how far you have truly come.”
Mr. Ziegler was the kind schoolteacher who treated Dave with respect and compassion, and encouraged him to work hard in school. Even though Ziegler plays an important role in freeing Dave from his mother’s abusive household, he admits that he was extremely ignorant about child abuse in 1970s—as was American society, it would seem. Implicitly, then, Ziegler suggests that Pelzer’s book can play an important social role by drawing attention to abuse issue and ensuring that children like Dave aren’t forced to endure years of abuse before teachers and parents notice that something is wrong.
In the next section, Valerie Bivens, a social worker for Child Protective Services, discusses the public’s ignorance of “the extent of child abuse.” Children are often unable to speak out against their parents’ crimes, with the result that their rage turns against other people, or inward against themselves. Luckily, the public is beginning to educate itself about child abuse, thanks to books, films, and child abuse survivors like Dave.
Bivens confirms one of Dave Pelzer’s most important insights: the victims of child abuse often wind up taking out their anger on themselves. Just as Dave began to hate himself for being too frightened to fight back against his mother, may other child abuse victims come to despite themselves for what they perceive as their own weakness.
Glenn A. Goldberg, former executive director of the California Consortium for the Prevention of Child Abuse, argues that people like David Pelzer need to tell their stories, “so that we can mobilize Americans to create a country where it won’t hurt to be a child.” He reminds readers to remember the tens of thousands of children who aren’t as lucky as Dave—those who don’t survive their abuse, or who survive and then perpetuate the cycle by hurting their own offspring.
Goldberg brings the book to the sobering conclusion that, for every inspiration story of overcoming child abuse (like Pelzer’s) there must be thousands of tragic stories that end in misery, self-hatred, and—worst of all—more child abuse.
The final part of the chapter consists of a poem written by a woman named Cindy M. Adams. In the poem, Cindy admits that she never know “how bad it was” for abused children. Many of the worst scars and bruises for abused children are psychological, rather than physical. However, Cindy will “make a difference” by standing alongside child abuse victims, drawing awareness to their suffering, and mobilizing other people.
Adams’s poem brings the book to an end, encouraging readers to go out and educate themselves about child abuse, rather than remaining passive and, implicitly, allowing abusive adults to continue their cruelty. Readers can make a difference by refusing to be passive, speaking out against abuse, and offering their support to the victims of abuse.