One of the things I’m glad I worked on in 2018 is When Love Hurts, a book which pulls together a set of love stories from the messy side of life. It’s hard for victims of domestic violence to seek help, because their abusers are often people they still love. It’s hard for perpetrators of abuse to admit guilt, because it is a rare man who is a monster 24/7. These remain love stories because every relationship started with falling in love, or feeling loved. Then something went wrong, for days, months or even years. And love was what so many victims clung to.
PAVE, Singapore’s pioneer family violence agency, sees about 1,000 new cases every year. Most of the women come voluntarily, at some crisis point when they cannot take the violence any more. Most of the men come because they have been ordered to receive counselling by the Family Justice Courts after their wives obtained a personal protection order. PAVE runs two specialist centres, our original centre in Ang Mo Kio, and the newer Safe Space, which is for children who have witnessed or experienced violence.
Social workers deal with difficult, private situations, and most of what they know ends up in case notes and seminar papers that look at trends and reasons and solutions. If there is time and determination to write a paper and run a seminar, because the casework takes up so much time and can be emotionally draining as well. So I am grateful to the social workers who agreed to write stories of clients they found personally challenging, and for letting me ask questions as I edited the stories, even though they were sometimes exasperated enough to say: “But we are social workers, not journalists!”
These are love stories because most of PAVE’s clients choose to remain in their marriages. Women who have suffered incredibly, sometimes for years, are prepared to forgive and focus yet again on the better side of the men they married. Many men who are initially angry and resentful at being sent for counselling, reach a point when they ask themselves how they want their children to remember them 10, 20 or 50 years from now – as the loving dads they started out wanting to be, or the monsters whose very presence instilled fear, trembling and pain.
Here’s a brief summary of what’s in the book, published by Straits Times Press and on sale in bookshops and online at http://www.stpressbooks.com.sg
Section 1 Women who remain with violent men Many of PAVE’s clients are women who stayed married to abusive men for many years. Asked why they did not act sooner to seek protection, they tell us: Because the children were young, and the family needed its breadwinner. Many women also marry boyfriends who abuse them, hoping the men will change after marriage. Sadly, many abusive boyfriends become even more violent after marriage.
JANET I still love him. I just want the violence to stop Janet was asleep when her husband punched her in the face, leaving her bleeding. That was the start of a bizarre, violent episode in Janet’s life. After 32 years together, she did not want a divorce, she wanted him to stop.
ROSE Free at last, after 15 years She did not tell her family that she was marrying her boyfriend and changing her name and religion. Deaf and a mother of three, Rose suffered at Gopal’s hands, even after he took a second wife. Then one day, she said: “Enough.”
MADAM POH 66 and still living with violence Abused as a child and married off to an older man who abused her sexually from the start, Madam Poh, 66, wanted the violence to stop. But she said: “No, no, no. I don’t want my husband to be in jail. My children will blame me.
HARDEV Her husband brought his mistress home Divorcee Hardev did not want to marry a second time, but was persuaded to try again. Karamjit came from India and after the wedding, hounded her for a dowry, battered her and was brazenly unfaithful too. (Hardev’s daughter Amari tells her story in Section 6)
SAFIYA I wish I’d left him sooner Safiya was a confident career woman who rode a motorcycle and came from a strong, loving family. She married Zul despite his controlling behaviour, verbal abuse and threats to kill himself if she stopped being his girlfriend.
NURUL I married him despite my doubts Nurul married Johan even though he yelled at her in public, used vulgar language and accused her of seeing other men. He was violent after marriage, but she held back from divorcing for the second time. “People will talk, you know,” she said.
DEVIKA An arranged marriage goes wrong Devika married Prakash in India, moved to Singapore to start a new life, then found herself isolated, controlled and battered. In a fit of violence one night, he threw her out of their flat, dressed only in her nightgown.
SECTION 2 Dating violence Most of PAVE’s clients are married women. But over the years we have seen an increase in the number of cases of dating violence and victims who are in live-in or cohabitee relationships.
JEYANTHI Battered and pregnant, she wanted the violence to stop Jeyanthi met Indran over Facebook and they became a couple within two months. Then he started abusing her, moved in with her and his violence worsened. When she landed in hospital, severely beaten up and pregnant, Jeyanthi decided it was time to get away from Indran, keep her baby and move on.
SYAHIDA From hospital to shelter, then back to her tormentor He was the boyfriend who controlled her and tracked her every move, embarrassed her at her workplace, bashed her severely and threatened her family. No matter what he did, Mariam found it so hard to get away from Andy. She refused to report him, fearing that the violence would only worsen.
JENN Trapped in the cycle of love and violence Just when divorcee Jenn thought she was falling in love with her colleague Nicholas, he learnt that she had gone out briefly with another man from their office. Incensed, he demanded to know everything about that earlier relationship. Jenn soon found herself in a year-long nightmare of violence.
SECTION 3 Trapped by mind games There are men so expert at playing mind games to exert control over their girlfriends and wives, that even smart working women are left doubting themselves and find it hard to quit these toxic relationships. Then the men become violent, adding physical pain to mental torture.
GRACE It’s so hard to run from the man you love Frank was attentive and caring when divorcee Grace met him. Everything changed after they married and had a child. Then his bizarre mind games and violence in the middle of the night began taking a toll on her. Although she called PAVE many time, it took Grace a long time to act.
NATALIE Dad’s support proved the turning point Natalie was a teenager when she met Michael, the man she would marry. She had a brief fling with a colleague and when she told Michael, he bashed her. He spent the next several years exploiting her guilt, subjecting her to bouts of extreme violence. When she finally turned to her father for help, it was the start of change.
MARIAM If your inner voice says something is wrong, fix it As a child, Mariam was battered by her mother. She married Afiq, who was attractive, friendly, chivalrous and generous. He changed after their baby was born. Now Mariam’s life was marked by mental torture, verbal and physical abuse.
SECTION 4 Foreign wives, abused and alone Foreign women who leave their countries to marry Singaporean men face unique challenges when they find themselves in violent relationships. Many find themselves completely dependent on their husbands, who threaten them with repatriation if they do not remain submissive. With few or no support networks in Singapore, these women face an uphill battle to seek protection of leave their husbands.
YATI One day she broke out of her Singapore prison Adnan locked Yati in their flat. She was not allowed to speak the neighbours. He demanded sex up to five times a day, thrashed her and humiliated her in public. All the time, he threatened to have her sent back to Indonesia.
NADIRA Terrorised by her sister’s husband for years She was 16 when she came to Singapore to study, and her nightmare began immediately. Kamal molested her, and then did it again and again, for years. Nadira tells her story of shame, betrayal and unbearable silence.
AMY Nightmare after the whirlwind romance She was a model, he was a successful Singapore businessman. He wooed and won her, it was a fairytale romance. Then baby came, he demanded sex immediately, Prince Charming disappeared and Amy’s nightmare began.
LINA:Dashed dreams of an immigrant from Shenyang A divorcee arrives in Singapore hoping to start life anew. Then she meets and marries Singaporean Cedric despite his short temper and abusive ways. They have a son, but Lina’s life unravels when she discovers that loan sharks are after her husband and he has a mountain of debt.
CORAZON Yes, I hit him but I’m a victim too After four abortions and contracting a sexually-transmitted infection from Leo, Corazon found herself pregnant again. He married her and their daughter was born, but now Leo abused her. She fought back, and he reported her for violence.
SECTION 5 Men who beat the women who love them Most of the men who come to PAVE have deeply-held beliefs about male superiority and carry through life various notions of what it takes to “act like a man”. It is a struggle to change and stop choosing violence to assert their dominance over their wives and children. Even after they learn to spot the triggers that spark their violence, it is hard work to stay violence-free.
CALVIN For three goldfish, I lost my wife and children When Calvin and Linda quarrelled over his new fish tank, he pinned her down and choked her while their children screamed. Then he attacked her again. Mother’s Day 2016 was unforgettable – it was the day their marriage died.
ANTHONY Scolding, yelling, nagging drove his family away Anthony never hit his wife. His obsession with keeping the home clean led to angry outbursts when his wife and children were messy. He yelled, scolded and used vulgar language until it led to a PPO and divorce.
ALBERT My wife is useless except for sex Albert was abused horribly as a child, then abused his wife and terrorised his son himself. He beat Sandy if she failed to keep their home as clean as he liked. “My wife is just a maid and a sex object to me,” he said.
GOVINDA I’m the leader, I tell her what to do A husband and father at 21, Govinda had fixed ideas about men and women’s roles. He was superior to his wife, set standards for their home life, and if she failed to meet his expectations, he abused her.
AMRAN I don’t want them to be frightened of me all the time Life spiralled downwards for Amran after his father’s sudden death. He spent time in a children’s home, a drug rehabilitation centre, and finally, prison. Along the way he married Suri and and abused her until she could no longer bear it.
YEO I need help, I almost killed my wife Mr Yeo was horrified after he slapped his wife and strangled her while she was nagging their daughters. Anxious to avoid it happening again, he volunteered for counselling and became the “A-Star student” of a men’s group.
SECTION 6 Children & violence Children have been among PAVE’s clients from the beginning. They are affected as eyewitnesses to family violence, or are victims themselves. Helping children is hard work, because it takes time and effort to get these young ones to reveal the deep impact of violence on them.
BEN & CHRISTOPHER So hard to talk about Dad beating Mum Family life for brothers Ben and Christopher included being present when their father beat their mother. Jenny decided to file for divorce, but was worried about the impact of the violence on her young sons. Through counselling the boys were able to talk about their feelings and describe what they worried about.
NATASHA The weight of the world on her nine-year-old shoulders Theirs was a happy family for many years, and then Imran and Siti began quarrelling all the time about money. When Imran started bashing Siti, their eldest daughter Natasha felt she had to protect her two younger siblings. All the time though, she kept worrying that her mother would die, and their family would break up.
AMARI Battered but not broken by a monster Dad Throughout her young life, Amari witnessed the worst of her father Jasbir, who came home drunk every night and terrorised the family. When she turned 13, he abused her sexually, and it left her feeling ashamed and unable to tell anyone. But worse was to come before the family broke away from him and she needed help to put the trauma behind her.
SECTION 7 Elder abuse, the tip of the iceberg Given Singapore’s rapidly ageing population, PAVE expects to see more cases of elder abuse in years to come. From the cases already handled by the agency, older people find it extremely hard to report their own children for abuse and mistreatment.
MUTHU Abused by his son, an 84-year-old says: ‘Enough!’Widower Mokkayan was in his 80s and terrorised by his son, who slammed doors, unplugged the TV and radio, yelled, pushed and punched him. When it became unbearable, the old man fought to get abusive Ravi out of his life.
HAIDI: The black sheep of the family tries to change After spending years going in and out of prison, Haidi attacked his 84-year-old father brutally and landed back behind bars again. The family did not want him home when he was released from prison, and for the first time in his life he had to confront his demons and decide whether it was finally time to turn over a new leaf.
STEVE & MARILOU Abused parents ask: ‘Did we love him too much?’ When their 19-year-old son became violent, Steve and Marilou Garcia were torn by fear and doubt as they obtained a Personal Protection Order against their eldest child and struggled to understand how it had come to this.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATIONS When we were working on the stories, I asked Paul Eric Roca if he would do some illustrations for us. We worked together for many years at The Straits Times, and I always admired this Filipino artist’s work. I remember a set of beautiful award-winning illustrations Eric did for a special report in the paper on mental health. He said yes right away to working on When Love Hurts, and his illustrations are so apt for this book.
FOR MORE ABOUT PAVE Go to pave.org.sg