The recent uproar over the case of Annie Ee, who died after being repeatedly beaten by her longtime friend Tan Hui Zhen, and Tan’s husband Pua Hak Chuan, has shone the spotlight on the issue of abuse in Singapore.
Ee, who was intellectually disabled, did not sound the alarm or report the abuse. Neither did the people around her, some of whom even bore witness to the injuries on her body.
In a more recent incident of abuse, a woman was seen slapping herself in public at a café in Dempsey Hill, after being ordered to do so by her male companion.
These cases beg the questions: Why do victims of abuse choose to endure their plight? Why do those who are privy to, or suspect a possible case of abuse, choose not to bring it to the attention of the relevant authorities? How can one bring oneself to physically hurt another human being?
The answers to these questions may not be as straightforward as you think.
The Pride spoke to three individuals – a victim of abuse, a former abuser, and a witness to an abuse case – to find out more about their psyche.
Here are their accounts.
The abused – Claudia, 24, student
It was barely a month into our relationship when he first hit me.
A tight slap, right across my face. What he was angry with me about, I can’t recall now, but it was probably over something trivial.
Of course, I was shocked when it happened. I never expected that of him – he was nothing but caring and sweet towards me before that, and I didn’t think he was capable of violence. Especially not towards me, his girlfriend.
I brushed it off initially, thinking it was a one-off incident that happened in a rare fit of anger.
How wrong I was.
It wasn’t long before he slapped me again. Then again. And again. He would pinch me as well, and twist my hands so hard they would bruise for days.
Anything could set him off. If I was late to meet him, if he felt I wasn’t giving him enough attention, or when he thought I wasn’t following his instructions.
After each time he hit me, he would say sorry and promise not to do it again. But he never kept that promise.
I told people about my situation the first few times it happened. I would make it sound like a joke, and try to convince them that it was nothing. Looking back, maybe that was really me trying to convince myself that I was in control of the situation.
As the abuse continued, and the force he used increased, my injuries naturally became more visible. Bruises began to show, and my hands had to be bandaged at one point after a particularly violent outburst.
But still, I would lie to my friends and family about the origin of my injuries. I would tell them I got injured from playing basketball, or from a fall. I’m not sure if they ever fully believed me, but they didn’t press the issue.
All this I did to protect him. I didn’t want to get him in trouble and ruin his reputation, his future.
I felt like I owed him. I was in a very dark place before we got together. He came at the right time and helped me through that difficult period of my life, so I felt obligated to stay with him, to put up with the abuse.
His parents were also going through a divorce, and I thought that it wouldn’t be nice of me to add to his distress by leaving him.
Crucially though, I think the psychological aspect of abuse played a factor as well. The physical abuse was one thing, but it always came with him saying things to demean my worth. I guess, after a while, I subconsciously began to believe what he said about me, and I felt that I needed to get his approval to prove my self-worth.
We were together for almost two years before I decided enough was enough. When I brought up the subject of breaking up, he flew into a fury and struck me several times – even though we were out at a coffeeshop – to try and make me take my words back.
When I persisted, he dragged me up to his house, and continued to physically and verbally abuse me. He strangled me so viciously I thought I would die. He let go only when he realised I had stopped struggling and was almost unconscious. That seemed to sober him up, and thankfully, he allowed me to leave his house after that.
He continued to send me threatening text messages thereafter, but our relationship ended for good that day. There was no going back for me.
However, I don’t think I could have found the courage to leave him if not for a friend who I confided in. He was the one who helped me see that I was in an unhealthy relationship, and that I had best get out of it before it was too late. He gave me advice, provided a listening ear, and was a pillar of support through the whole break-up process.
So, what I’ll tell others who find themselves in a similar situation to mine is to speak up. Tell someone about your plight – a friend, a family member, a counsellor. Don’t suffer in silence.
There are kind, caring people out there who are willing to help you, if only you ask. Please, allow them to do so.
Because nobody deserves to be abused. Not me, and certainly not you.
Things you can do if you are being abused
1) Go to the police for help.
2) Seek medical treatment or examination if you are injured.
3) Go to a temporary shelter if you fear for own safety or the safety of your family members.
4) Go to the Family Justice Courts for a Protection Order or Expedited order.
5) Seek help at the following family violence specialist centres:
Block 211, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3, #01-1446 Singapore 560211.
Block 410, Bedok North Avenue2, #01-58, Singapore 460410
Block 7A, Commonwealth Avenue, #01-672, Singapore 140007
The abuser – Daniel (not his real name), 30, senior marketing executive
I still remember her screams.
It has been more than five years since we parted ways, but the sight of her, contorted in agony, continues to haunt my nightmares.
She was my girlfriend, and I abused her.
We had been together for over a year when I first struck her. I was jealous, possessive, and prone to outbursts of rage, but I had never laid hands on her before that.
And it was all because she cancelled a meeting with me at the last minute.
I apologised after I hit her – a hard punch on her back – and told myself I could never lose control like that again. But I did. I can’t recall when it was I hit her again, or why. All I know was physical abuse soon became a part of our relationship.
Trust me when I say I took no joy in hitting her. I loved her, truly, and I always felt terrible after my disgraceful actions. I had anger management issues that I wasn’t willing to admit to nor seek help for, and unfortunately, it manifested itself in such a reprehensible manner.
I think her meekness and unwillingness to stand up to my abuse only served to embolden me. Nonetheless, I was always afraid she would tell someone about it and I would get into trouble, but she never did.
I would be wrecked with guilt after I cooled down, and for the next week or so, I would treat her especially nice, as a way of penance for my behaviour. But then, the next argument would come and I would lose control of myself again.
Eventually, though, she came to her senses and left me. Her parting “gift” to me was a letter which detailed the hurt she felt – physically, emotionally and mentally – each time I abused her. She told me how she felt she was living under a cloud of fear being in a relationship with me, and advised me to seek professional help.
That letter, along with the hurt of the break-up, was the wake-up call I needed. I saw a therapist, took up yoga, and over time, I’ve managed to mellow.
But I’m still ashamed over what I did to her. I wish I can turn back time to knock some sense into my younger self. I wish I had swallowed my pride and sought help earlier. I wish someone outside of our relationship had confronted me over what I did. Maybe that could have helped me come to my senses then.
Have I forgiven myself? No, I haven’t. It still pains me to think about what I did, and I’m well aware that this guilt may be something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.
I recently reached out to her again to apologise. She said she had forgiven me for what I did, and held no grudges, for which I’m immensely grateful.
I hope she has completely moved on from the hurts of the past. And maybe one day, I too, will be able to do so as well.
What to do if you are an abuser and want to stop the cycle of abuse
1) Be clear on what abuse is and isn’t.
2) Stop rationalising that abusive treatment of others is acceptable.
3) Listen to others – those around you may help you realise that your behaviour is abusive, even if you don’t recognise it yourself.
4) Get professional help to deal with any issues you may be facing, such as anger management or substance abuse.
5) Seek out a counsellor at one of the family violence centres for more assistance.
The witness – Daryl Tan, 28, auditor
She approached me one day, out of the blue, and told me everything.
About the affair, the abuse, and her shame.
She was my colleague, an administrative staff with the company I was working at then. And she was having an abusive affair with our manager.
She was in her early-20s, a single parent whose daughter was in pre-school, while our manager was in his late-30s, married, and with a four-year-old son.
My colleague’s confession took me by surprise, for several reasons. Firstly, I had noticed nothing before then to suggest that she and my manager had more than just a professional relationship.
I was also stunned to hear of my manager’s abusive streak. He had always struck me as a level-headed, amiable person, so it was initially hard to wrap my head around the fact that he had been physically abusing my colleague in private.
That my colleague chose me to confide in was unexpected. We were never close, and our prior interactions had always been brief and professional.
But over the course of two hours or so, in an empty meeting room, she poured her heart out to me, as if we had been close friends for years.
I learnt that my manager would often physically vent his anger on her when he was in a bad mood, had one too many drinks, or was displeased with something she had done.
He would kick her in the stomach, hit her limbs, and even once or twice, punch her in the face. There were also times when he would force himself on her, despite having his advances rejected.
After each episode of abuse, he would cry and beg her forgiveness, and her heart would go out to him again.
Just like this, the cycle would repeat itself.
She refused to report the abuse or expose our manager’s misdeeds, as it could potentially split his family apart – something she felt uneasy about, especially as his son was still so young.
I offered to help her, to bring this matter to the relevant authorities. But she insisted that I kept this to myself. Whatever advice I gave – be it to find another job and end the affair, or seek help from her family members – fell on deaf ears. She was adamant that I let her handle the problem on her own.
So, I did nothing.
Did I feel good about it? No. But what could I have done? I couldn’t force her to bring her case up to the authorities, or confront my manager about it.
Even if I did go behind her back and report the abuse, there is nothing the authorities could have done if she refused to confirm with them that it happened. Instead, it could make her feel even lonelier, knowing now that she couldn’t trust me.
The only relief I could offer was to be a sympathetic ear for her to open up to whenever she felt like it. But I also convinced her to promise to call me if she ever felt like her life was in danger.
I left the company soon after, and she, too, stopped contacting me. I hear she’s working someplace else now, although I’m not sure if she managed to get herself out of that abusive relationship.
All I can do is pray that she did.
Quick tips on how to help someone who is abused
1) Approach the victim privately
2) Be patient, listen, express your concern and encourage the victim to share their feelings.
3) Inform the victim of the avenues they can get help from.
4) Do not judge or criticise the victim.
5) Do not downplay the victim’s problems.
For more information on how to help victims of abuse, visit https://www.msf.gov.sg.