He was stabbed in the stomach, smashed against a mirror, forced to eat his own vomit, and had his face smeared in his brother's dirty diaper.

These were only some of the ordeals Dave Pelzer faced under the domineering thumb of his alcoholic mother, in one of the worst cases of child abuse that California has ever seen.

With the release (24/03/09) of the research findings in Child Abuse and Neglect, and the recent controversy over newborn 'Baby D', child abuse is once more at the forefront of news media, just as it was over a decade ago with Pelzer's autobiographical book "A Child Called It".

'Baby D' has been seized from the arms of his parents within seconds of his birth, in an unprecedented high court ruling that dictated that the parents should not be informed about this decision beforehand.

This was believed to be in the best interest of the child's safety, though under the Human Rights Act, prospective parents have a right to private and family life and should therefore have been informed.

Role of child protection services

The mother, who is in prison for threatening her young daughter with a knife, had previously told a social worker that her children would be "better off dead than in the council's care", reports the Guardian.

This case has demonstrated the "root and branch shake up" of child protection services that Children's Secretary Ed Balls has admitted is necessary to protect children in the wake of the Baby P scandal.

The devastating end to Baby P's life, and the media controversy surrounding it, has raised awareness of the issue of child abuse.

Dave Pelzer's story, "A Child Called It: one child's struggle to survive", had a similar impact in the US in the mid-90's.

'A Child Called It'

"A Child Called It" chronicles one of the most severe child abuse cases in California's history.

The first part of his autobiographical trilogy tells the story of Dave's childhood. The abuse escalated at the tender age of seven, and continued until his 'rescue' at the age of 12.

Pelzer was burnt on a stove, had ammonia forced down his throat, put to lie in a bathtub full of freezing water for hours, and made to sit in the 'prisoner of war' position.

He was also excluded from family vacations, forced to live in the basement, denied human contact, and starved as punishment.

Child as object

The most powerful part of Pelzer's story is the point that translates through every story, whether real or fictional, of child abuse: the objectification of the child.

No longer a son, and treated even worse than a slave, Dave's mother referred to him as "The Boy", and eventually simply "It".

Another similar point between Dave's story and Baby P's is the involvement of social services: in Dave's case it took years of suspicion and investigation to result in his 'rescue'.

Baby P, unfortunately, was never rescued.

Had he survived, at the rate of abuse he had been subjected to, his file would have grown to exceed Pelzer's in the number of incidents in which his life was threatened by parental abuse.

Abused as abuser or activist

Pelzer has turned his abuse into something positive - unlike in many cases where the abused becomes the abuser, as depicted in the film The Cell, and in the role of T-Bag in the drama series Prison Break.

Dave has won awards for his writing and has accumulated presidential commendations for his work as a motivational speaker.

The world will never know what Baby P could have become.

Has the case of 'Baby D' shown a new direction in the role of child services that will change the future of child abuse cases?

Was their decision too drastic a measure... or can this 'pre-emptive strike' save a child's life?

Photo by Sacha Fortune/B. Evans
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Child abuse: stopped at delivery room

By: Sacha Fortune