Peter* and I first met at a club 18 years ago. He was one of those cool and silent bad-boy types who didn’t fawn over me like my other admirers, and I liked that. He wasn’t romantic, but he treated me well throughout our courtship. We got together soon after.
A year later, I got pregnant and we married several months in. I didn’t want to get married initially – I was only 21, way too young for marriage. Besides, I felt that I didn’t know him or his family well enough – what if our values clashed? But Peter was eager for the three of us to be a family and won me over with his persistence. I also gave in as I wanted my child to grow up in a complete family.
Things changed after our daughter Carrie* was born just months later. Peter started telling me I’d become fat and how he felt “cheated” – I was then a UK size 16 instead of the petite UK 8 I was when we first met. I lost my patience the third time this happened and called him out for being insensitive. He shot back with a barrage of vulgarities. I felt sickened; I never saw it coming and was shocked into silence.
Soon after, he verbally abused me whenever he got drunk, which happened fortnightly or once in three months. He’d always been a social drinker, but started turning to alcohol more often after he lost his job as a programme manager some months after Carrie’s birth. He would drink at least one bottle of beer after dinner every day and on bad days, he could down up to four bottles or more. The verbal abuse increased in intensity and frequency, and each episode could sometimes last up to two hours.
I didn’t talk back, fearing it would make things worse and wanting to keep the peace for Carrie’s sake. The thought of leaving him did cross my mind, but I had nowhere else to go. I couldn’t afford another apartment and moving back to my parents’ place didn’t seem like an option – my relationship with them had always been frosty. I felt trapped.
BASHED AND BRUISED
About six months into our marriage, Peter came home drunk one night and we had a tiff over how he wasn’t contributing enough to our household expenses. Angry, he left the house to drink more and came back 30 minutes later, itching for a fight. Without warning, he shoved me against the wall.
I was paralysed with shock because he’d never been violent before. He shoved me repeatedly against the wall, cursing and ranting about our finances, shouting that I looked more like a pig than a woman. This went on for about an hour and stopped only when Carrie woke up, after which he staggered into our bedroom and went to sleep. I was bruised and shaken, but buried my emotions and applied some medication. I slept in my daughter’s room that night.
That was the first incident that sparked off eight long years of physical abuse that came on without warning – slapping and punching me, grabbing my hair and even forcing me to have sex with him.
I’d get bruises on my shoulders as well as wounds on my forearms from shielding myself, which I covered up with long-sleeved shirts at work so my colleagues never suspected a thing. I didn’t have to worry about bruises on my face – that was the one area Peter was careful not to injure.
At the start, he’d apologise for losing his temper. But after a few months, he simply walked away after an episode, acting like nothing had happened. I suggested going for couples counselling repeatedly during the first year of our marriage. But Peter refused, insisting I was “the problem” and that I ought to “fix” myself. Things didn’t improve even after we had our second daughter, Anne*, a few years later.
I was contemplating divorce by this time, but whenever I raised it, Peter would vehemently object, saying I ought to be a “better wife” so he wouldn’t need to hit me. Eventually, I stopped mentioning it.
Mostly, the abuse took place within our HDB flat. But once, the violence spilled outside our home. It was five years into our marriage and I’d just been promoted. Even though he’d gotten a new job by this time, Peter had always been jealous of my success at work, especially since I was earning twice as much as him as an executive assistant. While I was celebrating with my bosses and colleagues at a restaurant, he suddenly stormed in and dragged me out, shouting accusations that I was sleeping around behind his back. I was so embarrassed I resigned shortly after.
A couple of years later, I applied for a personal protection order (PPO) against Peter after he drew blood for the first time. He was angry when he knew about it, but didn’t beat me up over it. The PPO required him to move out but he refused, claiming he’d paid for the house and wasn’t obliged to leave. I was so emotionally drained that I didn’t push it. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.
Two years later, Peter struck me and I fell backwards, hitting the edge of our coffee table. I felt a sharp pain shoot through my back – I had a slipped disc. This time, my neighbours called the police because of the racket. He was sentenced to jail for three weeks, but was released two weeks earlier for “good behaviour” and returned to live with us. I was hospitalised three times for my slipped disc and can no longer wear high heels without the lower half of my body going numb.
There was nothing I could do to stop his beatings – he’d stop only when either of our daughters was woken up by the sound of his attacks – and I couldn’t seem to escape him. If I locked myself in a room, he’d hack at the doorknob with a chopper. If I hid at my mum’s place, he’d come over and find me. When I ran out of the house, he’d call my mobile and threaten to change the locks so I would not be able to see my daughters anymore.
TRAPPED AND ALONE
I might have left Peter earlier had either of our families assured me of some kind of support – but that didn’t come. My immediate family knew about the abuse and even though they didn’t shun me, they didn’t offer much help either – they had never approved of Peter and felt that I should have chosen better. Plus, we’d never been close. I’d hide out at my parents’ place sometimes, and on the occasions when Peter came looking for me, my mum would threaten to call the police – but once he left, she’d get upset with me for “bringing trouble” to the family.
His family turned a blind eye to what was going on. They would talk about their holidays to London at the dining table even though I was sitting right across them, with the bruises on my arms clearly visible. And when I did raise the issue, they would give me cursory replies like “Oh, we’ll talk to him” – they never did. My mother-in-law even told me not to provoke him.
I didn’t want to speak to a counsellor as I wasn’t comfortable telling a stranger the private and ugly details of my life. I also didn’t want to admit that I had become an “abused woman”, a statistic. I was angry with myself for choosing the wrong guy, yet consoled myself with the fact that he wasn’t hurting our girls and that he didn’t hit me in front of them.
A few close friends who knew what was happening gave me emotional support, provided a listening ear, and occasionally, a temporary shelter. I went about my daily life as though everything was normal. But of course, I wasn’t alright. From being a happy and extroverted person, I became quiet and withdrawn – a shell of my former self. I started to hate any kind of physical contact and would feel violated whenever people tried to touch me. I avoided crowded places and backed away when friends tried to give me a hug.
I confided in my grandma, whom I was closest to. She advised me to start making plans to leave Peter, and that included saving enough money to support myself and my girls. The unconditional support I got from her and my close friends eventually gave me strength to snap out of my denial that everything was okay.
The final straw came when Peter hit me in front of Carrie, just months after the slipped disc incident. It was two in the morning and he was drunk. He had pinned me against the wall and was punching me for no reason. I was crouched in a fetal position, trying not to make any noise so I wouldn’t disturb the kids.
Unfortunately, Carrie, who was eight then, woke up and ran out of her room. She tried to pull him away and got shoved violently, which sent her tiny body flying against the wall. I snapped. Running into the kitchen, I grabbed a knife and charged at Peter. He dodged and I dropped the knife. Before he had a chance to pick it up and use it against me, I started punching and kicking him. I was so infuriated that I don’t remember how long it went on for – when I finally stopped, he was lying unconscious and bleeding from the nose.
I dragged his limp body out of the house, locked the door and called the police, who came and took him away. I don’t know what they did with him after that.
The next day, I found a rented place and left the house with my girls. I also called up law firms and started divorce proceedings. It was a difficult decision, but I finally realised that it was healthier for my girls to live without such a father.
Peter refused to give up custody of the girls unless I gave up alimony and I readily agreed – I just wanted him out of our lives. Although he has visitation rights to our girls, he doesn’t see them often as he frequently travels for business.
Thankfully, Carrie and Anne have been relatively happy since we moved out. Carrie – who had witnessed Peter attacking me – was very angry with her father and acted out by refusing to do her homework in school. I sent her to a counsellor and it took a year for her to move on from the incident.
I’ve become a lot more independent and emotionally resilient. After the divorce, I took on additional freelance jobs to supplement my four-figure salary. The hard work paid off when I received a scholarship this year to further my studies, which was a great victory for me. I’m also using my experience to help other women. Besides sharing my story, I have taken part in forum theatre plays about domestic abuse to raise awareness about the topic.
It took me two years after my divorce to start dating again. I am currently seeing a great guy who treats my girls well, but I’m not keen on getting married because of my experience with Peter. A part of me also constantly worries about who my daughters will end up with in the future.
It’s tough juggling my kids and a career as a single parent, and I wish I could give them a complete family. But I constantly remind myself to be strong and make the best of my situation, so I can set a good example for my girls. More than anything, I want them to feel empowered by my story.
Looking back, I should have put my foot down the first time Peter laid a hand on me. If my family had been more supportive, who knows, I might have had the confidence to leave him early on. Many abused women feel ashamed, thinking they brought on the abuse by not being a “good enough” wife. The truth is, no one deserves to be abused. And if you know someone who is a victim, providing a listening ear and showing her she is not alone could give her the courage to end her agony sooner – I know that my friends’ support then meant the world to me.
*Not their real names
HOW TO SPOT THE SIGNS
A survey by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) in May found that eight in 10 people won’t intervene even if they knew that someone was being abused by her spouse. Here are the signs that your friend or loved one is in an abusive relationship:
- She becomes quiet when her husband is around and seems afraid of angering him.
- She has bruises or injuries she can’t explain.
- She casually mentions his violent behaviour, but later dismisses it as “not a big deal”.
- She cancels plans at the last minute after checking with her husband.
- Her husband constantly calls or texts her when she’s out with friends, making her anxious.
- He keeps putting her down in front of others.
- He strikes or breaks objects when he loses his temper.
- He’s controlling and gets jealous whenever others pay attention to her.
SOURCE: Sheena Kanwar, support services manager at AWARE
CALL FOR HELP
- Aware Helpline: 1800-774-5935 (Mon–Fri, 3pm–9.30pm)
- Aware Sexual Assault Befrienders Service (SABS): 6779-0282 (Mon–Fri, 10am – 9.30pm)
- Comcare Helpline (to contact your nearest Family Service Centre): 1800-222-0000
- Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence (Pave): 6555-0390 (Mon–Fri, 9am – 6pm;
- Wed, 9am – 9.30pm)
- Shelters that cater to victims of family violence include the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations’s Star Shelter (6571-0192) and the Singapore Anglican Community Services Family Care Centre (1800-346-4939). They require you to get a referral from a family service centre (FSC) or the police. For a list of FSCs, visit www.ncss.org.sg.
HOW TO GET A PERSONAL PROTECTION ORDER
What it is: A PPO is a court order that restrains someone from using violence against his family members, including a spouse, ex-spouse, child, sibling or parent. This includes attempts to hurt, confine, or restrain someone against her will, or harassing her with the intention of causing anguish.
How to apply for one: You must fill in an application form at the Family Court (3 Havelock Square) and bring relevant supporting documents like police or medical reports. You have to attend a court session two to three weeks later, but in some cases, a PPO could be issued before then.
But take note: Once a PPO has been issued, the perpetrator will be punished only when he has committed further violence or made more threats against you. He might be fined and/or jailed.
SOURCE: Alfred Dodwell, Lawyer at Dodwell & Co.
This story was first published in Her World magazine August 2013 issue.
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