When love hurts: S'porean shares her tale of domestic abuse

The verbal tirades, the insults and put-­downs started shortly after the birth of their first daughter.

"I never lost the weight I put on during pregnancy and he made snide remarks about the 23kg," communications manager Rachel Chung, 39, says.

When she called him out for being insensitive, he moved on to using profanities, eventually "graduating" to being violent.

"He shoved me just to make a point, and that soon escalated to slapping and punching," she adds.

This went on for eight years.

"(It occurred) whenever I disagreed with him or he couldn't out-talk me in an argument," Ms Chung says. "It started with him pushing me to shut me up, shoving me against walls. That escalated to him kicking and using his fists."

The couple met at a group outing with mutual friends and were married a year later. He is 11 years older than her and disliked it when she disagreed with him.

The issue of domestic violence has been hogging headlines after a tape leaked of Baltimore Ravens' American football player Ray Rice punching and knocking out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer during an argument. She married him months after the incident.

In the ensuing fracas, Rice was thrown out of the team. But people started asking questions about his wife, including why she married him.

Social media has since been flooded with people using the hashtag #WhyIStayed.

It has been hailed as the "Hashtag of 2014", and serves to draw attention to the real and complex reasons why people stay on in abusive relationships.

Some of the heartbreaking posts include statements like "because I thought no other man could love me with all of my insecurities", "he made me believe I was nothing without him" and "I didn't have any bruises. Not all abuse shows that easily".

A corollary hashtag #WhyILeft has also emerged in recent weeks.

In Singapore, it was reported in January that specialist centres dealing with family violence have seen a rise in cases here.

The three specialist centres - Pave, Trans Safe Centre and Care Corner Project StART - handled 2,362 cases in 2012, a 26 per cent rise from the year before. While they include all sorts of violence, including those against the elderly and children, the centres reportedly said they were expecting more cases.

In another article, it was reported that the number of personal protection orders given has risen from 2,019 in 1997 to 3,073 in 2012.

For Ms Chung, she too felt compelled to stay on at one time.

"I was trying to make the marriage work for the kids' sake. Also, I wasn't able to buy a house on my own, given the housing laws back then," she tells The New Paper on Sunday.

She says he would apologise, "but not in the manner of promising not to do it again".

"Rather, he would ask me not to provoke him again, saying that he really didn't want to do it."

She adds that what was most disturbing was "the dilemma of changing who I was, to conform to what he expected".

"As long as I obeyed and conformed to his expectations, he was loving and charming," she says.

Ms Chung not only sustained head and back injuries over the years, she also struggled with self-doubt and self-worth.

She gathered up the courage to leave him in 2006 only when her elder daughter saw the abuse.

"That was the only time - and the last time - she saw it. I figured then that being a mother who is not afraid to make a stand or speak up is much better than giving her a repressed mother and a father who cannot handle strong women," Ms Chung says.

Wheel of violence

The Wheel of Violence shows how abuse takes many forms, and may not necessarily involve direct physical contact.

INTIMIDATION

Making her afraid by: • Using looks, actions, gestures • Smashing things • Destroying her property • Abusing pets • Displaying weapons

EMOTIONAL ABUSE

• Putting her down • Making her feel bad about herself • Calling her names • Making her think she's crazy • Playing mind games • Humiliating her • Making her feel guilty

ISOLATION

• Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, where she goes • Limiting her outside involvement • Using jealousy to justify actions

MINIMISING, DENYING AND BLAMING

• Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously • Saying the abuse didn't happen • Shifting responsibility for abusive behaviour • Saying she caused it

USING CHILDREN

• Making her feel guilty about the children • Using the children to relay messages • Using visitations to harass her • Threatening to take the children away

USING MALE PRIVILEGE

• Treating her like a servant • Making all the big decisions • Acting like the master of the castle • Being the one to define men's and women's roles

ECONOMIC ABUSE

• Preventing her from getting or keeping a job • Making her ask for money • Giving her an allowance • Taking her money • Not letting her know about or have access to family income

COERCION AND THREAT • Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her • Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, to report her to welfare • Making her drop charges • Making her do illegal things


 

Why I stayed

Around the world, social media users have been putting up heart-rending posts with the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Here are some of them:

Beverly Gooden @bevtgooden

He said he would change. He promised it was the last time. I believed him. He lied.

Kimberly Trost @Minxysshoes

Because I believed him when he said I deserved it. My mother said the same thing when I was little.

hi.im.Shanadian @hi_im_shan

Because I lost the friends I had when I didn't listen to them telling me to get help. So I thought I was alone.

Rachel Miller @ReIgniteRomance

I was determined to make it work, I wanted the kids to have their dad, I convinced myself that what he did to me wasn't affecting them.

Tara Matarese @tara_matarese

Because when it's all you've known your whole life, you believe it's the norm and you're just meant to be unhappy.

Jennifer Williams @boudoir_studio

Because I thought that this was 'as good as I could get'.

Dee Anne Atkins @deeders54321

He said he loved me and would never hit me again.

Really Thinking @youarericher

I was in a foreign country with no support network.

Shaunte Cline @MomsJemms

Because he said no one would ever want me or love me.

Does it matter who hit first

"She hit first".

That was the refrain from one woman's husband when she applied for a personal protection order against him.

While talking to various women and agencies for this feature, I was struck by this excuse that the husband gave in front of the courts.

My eyes widened when the wife told me her story. Then again, there is a whole school of thought that goes something like this: You started it, so I fight back.

It emerged after the Janay Rice fiasco; commentators noted that in the video, the couple were fighting and she appeared to have flailed at her would-be husband.

Although she does not condone violence or physical abuse, American comedienne Whoopi Goldberg turned heads when she suggested women should not be surprised if she hits a man and he hits back.

Sorry, but I don't buy it.

I, for one, am firmly in the camp that real men don't hit.

There are exceptions, but the average man is, after all, much bigger and stronger than the average woman. The average man hits harder than the average woman.

Should a man hit a woman, the power ratio would be very unequal. If a man were to hit a woman, it is almost equal to when a woman were to hit a child.

Then again, men and women don't hit each other for the same reason.

Women hit out of frustration, sometimes to get attention. They don't hit men to hurt them, because they know that is not a realistic expectation.

Men, on the other hand, hit women usually to hurt them.

When a guy like Ray Rice throws a mean left hook at someone's jaw, he knows exactly what will happen. And if the target is his soon-to-be-wife in an elevator, he knows he will have to drag her out of there later.

I have never been hit by a man, although I did come close, once.

I was in my teens when a schoolmate was constantly abused by her then-boyfriend. I told her to leave him if she wanted to be happy. Unfortunately, she went and told him and I was confronted by the bully.

Fight or flight?

I decided to stand my ground.

Putting my face just inches off his, I taunted him and goaded him to hit me.

He could have and if he did, I would not have known if there was any defence, since I told him to.

But to his credit, he didn't. He merely walked away.

Ethics experts from the Nanyang Technological University say no one, be it man or woman, is justified in hitting someone back, merely for the sake of revenge.

They feel that if a man is hit by a woman, his right of self-defence may justify him hitting her back but only as a necessary and proportional means of preventing her from hitting him again.

But if the man is capable of avoiding another attack without hitting the woman, he should not - even if he wants to - retaliate. The question here is can he?

Will he be able to rationalise in the heat of the moment?

Walking away or merely overpowering her to stop the hit will stop the violence from escalating.

Easier said than done.

But this is not carte blanche for women to get away with crap either.

Seriously, why does anyone need to hit in the first place?

Words work just as well.

Learn how to argue and argue well.

If you don't know how, then turn and walk away, with your dignity intact.

By doing so, you don't have to face the consequence should the law come down on you, and hard.

So guys, man up and stop the abuse.

Helplines

Centre For Promoting Alternatives To Violence

Tel: 6555-0390

Operating hours: Wednesday (9am to 9.30pm), weekdays (9am to 6pm)

E-mail: admin@pave.org.sg

Care Corner Project StART

Tel: 6476-1482

Operating hours: Monday and Tuesday (10am to 9pm), Wednesday to Friday (10am to 5pm)

E-mail: projectstart@carecorner.org.sg

Trans Safe Centre

Tel: 6449-9088

Operating hours: Weekdays

(9am to 5pm)

E-mail: transsafe@trans.org.sg

Association Of Women For Action And Research

Tel: 1800-774-5935

Operating hours: Weekdays

(3pm to 9.30pm)

E-mail: aware@aware.org.sg

ComCare Call

Tel: 1800-222-0000

Operating hours: 24 hours

E-mail: msf_email@msf.gov.sg

Star Shelter (Singapore Council Of Women's Organisations)

Tel: 6571-0192

Operating hours: Weekdays

(9am to 6pm)

E-mail: counsel@scwo.org.sg


This article was first published on Oct 5, 2014.
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