When Sandra Aulia was in her twenties and thirties, she was married to a controlling and abusive man. For nine years, he abused her physically, sexually and emotionally. She finally sought help from Star Shelter, a safe space for women and children of all religions who are survivors of domestic violence.
Here’s her story, as told to our contributing writer, Claire Soong.
“I met him through church. I was looking for someone to help my church group at the time, and I saw [his ad] in a newspaper, so I contacted him—two years later, we were married. The first incident took place two weeks after the wedding, and it was more than just a physical pain, it was [psychological] as well. I didn’t grow up in this [type of environment], my parents didn’t abuse each other and I didn’t learn about [domestic violence] at school so I just didn’t know how to go about [dealing with it]. A lot of people don’t realise that there is cycle to the violence. It starts with building tension and sometimes results in an ‘explosion’ where you end up in the hospital with bruises, but then it passes into that honeymoon phase. His reasoning [for the abuse] was that he believed that I deserved it.
I stayed for nine years believing that we could work things out. Initially, we were able to talk about [the abuse], but his situation is actually learned behaviour—his father hit his mum, so it was difficult for him to come out of it. It was something we were unable to resolve over nine years and it went from bad to worse. Had someone actually intervened in the early years, we probably could have saved the marriage.
I did a lot of research after [discovering] PAVE, seeing all the charts [on domestic violence] was a big eye-opener for me, I said ‘That’s exactly what I’m going through,’ and I understood that had to leave [despite] what all my friends said. My daughter understood abuse because she suffered from the violence as well. If he couldn’t get to me, he would get to her.
I have always talked to her like an adult, so [when she was] four-and-a-half, I talked to her and said, ‘Mummy is going to leave daddy because what he did is not right. Do you want to come with me or do you want to stay with daddy?’ and she said, ‘You know, mummy, what he did is not right.’ Once, she actually stood up in front of him and said, ‘Daddy, hitting is not right’ when he was hitting me. She stood there, courageously, so she knew since young that violence is wrong.
PAVE eventually lead me to Star Shelter. It was a blessing for me to be in Star Shelter—to meet so many women who were going through it. The community empowered me because we were sharing the same thing together, going through the same thing, helping each other become stronger.
If someone had given me the confidence and told me I was strong enough to leave, I would have left earlier.
Every marriage has problems, but violence is not the way to solve the problem or control [your partner]. No form of abuse should be used as conflict resolution; this is something that we need to teach the public and the younger generation so it doesn’t [continue]. We need to teach [young people] to be able to evaluate what a healthy relationship [looks like] and give them the knowledge to understand the cycle of violence.
In Singapore, people tend to keep to themselves and don’t want to get involved in other people’s business. I was staying in a condominium and when people hear somebody shout, they just close the door, close the windows, and go to bed. We need to bring awareness on how [bystanders] could really help the situation by knocking on the door, passing by, or by just making some kind of noise.
I learned to forgive and to let go and to accept my situation and not be ashamed of [my experience]. After all that I’ve gone through I believe that every challenge is an opportunity to step up. If you cannot get over it, you cannot conquer new territory.”*
What to do if you suspect domestic abuse
Whether you are a victim or you are a bystander, talk to someone. If you are a survivor, talking to just one other person can open the doors to help and support. If you are a bystander that hears or sees something, the safest option is to call the police, but if you are afraid to do that, then talk to someone who specialises in domestic violence situations. There are many hotlines and family violence shelters, such as Star Shelter, that you can call for advice.
About Star Shelter
Sandra, now 49, is one of Star Shelter’s success stories. Star Shelter not only provides basic needs such as accommodation, clothing, food and legal advice, but they also provide holistic coping resources. “One of our functions is to keep them safe, the other is to help them to rebuild their lives, free of violence. We have programs to help them learn skills and to support them emotionally, music therapy, art therapy, to help them heal from the trauma and rebuild their lives,” Lorraine Tan from Star Shelter tells us.
Another homegrown charity, AIDHA helps foreign domestic workers and low-income Singaporean women become economically independent by teaching financial planning, wealth creation and entrepreneur skills. “Empowering [women] through knowledge is a sustainable way of making sure they become stronger… [and] have skills that will last them through their lifetime,” says board member Yvonne Chan.
The two organisations are working with Benefit Cosmetics in Singapore as part of the cosmetics company’s global global philanthropy program, Bold is Beautiful, which launched in 2015. To date, the company has donated over $16.5 million (USD) to charities that empower women.
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Bold is Beautiful is back for our FOURTH year here in Singapore! ✨ This year, we’re proud to be supporting @aidha.sg again and a new charity partner — Star Shelter to empower women & girls through a simple BROW WAX! Do your part for charity by booking a brow wax via @vanidaysg and 100% of its proceeds goes to charity! #boldisbeautifulsg
Before you write off their philanthropic efforts as corporate goodwill, know this: Benefit donates 100% of proceeds from brow waxes through the month of May, and 100% of 3D BROWtones magenta all year long to local charities.
Maggie Ford Danielson, Global Beauty Authority of Benefit Cosmetics, says the basis of Bold is Beautiful is about empowerment, support and sisterhood, adding that if “we can [create that] through economic self-sufficiency, education, mentorship and access to wellness, [Benefit] believes that any woman or girl [who] has access to those three things can better their situation in life.”