Think of domestic violence and you’ll probably picture physical assault. But it can also take on other forms—like emotional, sexual and financial abuse. Two women tell us about the different types of cruelty they suffered at the hands of their loved ones.
Ann Tan*, 27
The very people who were supposed to protect Ann have all failed her in some way. For one, the youngest of five children was not only neglected by her parents, but also physically abused by them.
“They never cared about me. And whenever they quarrelled, they’d take their frustrations out on me. My dad would slap me while my mum would pinch me,” she says.
When she was six, her father brought his mistress home to live with the family— a move that worsened the family dynamics and created a toxic home environment during the 10 years the woman stayed with them.
“When I was 13, he decided he wanted to have sex with his mistress every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon, and that all of us would have to be out of the house during that time.
My mum would tell me, ‘Don’t go home. Just go out.’ I’d ask her, ‘Go where?’ and she’d just shrug,” she says. “There were times when I felt so abandoned that I wished I’d get knocked down by a car.”
Ann was also abused by her brother. “When I was 15, he started touching me and would even initiate sex. I’d turn him down and threaten to tell our elder sister to make him stop, but that didn’t deter him from trying again and again.”
When she was 18, she got into a relationship with a guy a year younger than her because he made her feel loved and secure. But things took a turn when she became pregnant with his child a few months later.
“He’d frequently tell me I was out of shape. And whenever we took the stairs, he’d refuse to hold me,” she says. “Once, a fan blade dislodged and flew towards us. Instead of shielding me, he hid behind me.”
And his abusive behaviour got worse after the birth of their baby.
“I looked after our son all by myself, but I’d ask for his help when I got too tired,” she says. “He’d tell me that he’d only lend a hand if I had sex with him or gave him some sort of sexual favour. I usually had no choice but to give in because I really needed to rest.”
He also started physically abusing her. “He’d push and pinch me at random and tell our son, who was just over a year old, to do the same,” she says. “When I asked him why he acted that way, he’d reply, ‘For fun.’”
At one point, Ann felt so miserable that she contemplated suicide. She eventually decided to move out of her then-boyfriend’s house as she hoped it would make him treat her better. It didn’t.
“I still saw him regularly and would stay over at his place with our son,” she says. “He got even more abusive. He’d drag me out of bed in the middle of the night and lock me outside his house without my phone or wallet for no reason. I’d roam the area aimlessly until he came to tell me I could go back to bed.”
She adds that she had no contact with her parents during the first three years of her son’s life because they simply had no interest in her or their grandchild.
And even though she was staying with one of her sisters, she received little to no support from her—so the only person she had was her child’s father.
She eventually left him when she discovered he was cheating on her. The breakup was long and messy, and he disappeared from their lives for two years.
“I only met him for the first time again last year,” she says. “He’s engaged now, so I don’t want to create unnecessary trouble for him, but we’re currently trying to meet every two or three months for the sake of our son.”
Anyone who has walked even half a mile in Ann’s shoes might find themselves bitter and angry, but she tries not to let these emotions get to her. In fact, in spite of all the pain her loved ones have caused her, she’s working on forgiving them.
“I choose not to resent my ex-boyfriend. I choose to take responsibility and I blame myself for staying with him even though he treated me badly,” she says. “I didn’t love myself enough. And in order to do that, I have to forgive myself.”
“I still have resentment towards my parents, but I’m continuously working on letting it go. Two wrongs don’t make a right and at the end of the day, I want to set the right example for my son.”
*Name has been changed.
Dawn Teo, 24
It’s commonly assumed that rape cannot happen between two people who are in an intimate relationship. But it can—and it happened to Dawn when she was 17.
“My then-boyfriend and I dated for four years. The rape happened towards the end of the third year,” she says. “We had met at his place to try and resolve an argument. It wasn’t unusual to meet him there because I hung out in his room a lot.”
“But once we were past the room door, he started to take my clothes off aggressively. There was a lot of pushing, pulling and grabbing, and I got pinned down. Even though I was struggling, I couldn’t overcome him. My shouts became pleas and eventually, I was just crying and hoping it’d end as soon as possible.”
She explains that he didn’t just violate her physically, but also emotionally. “I had so many questions, like ‘How is this happening? Why is he not listening to me? Does he love me? How did I not see this coming? Do I deserve this? Why am I giving up? Am I to be blamed for this?’”
“I felt so many emotions, from anger and sadness to disappointment. Initially, I directed them towards him, but eventually, I placed the blame and shame on myself. I became disgusted with myself. I was angry that I let it happen to me.”
In an attempt to cope with the trauma, she blocked the rape out of her memory during the one year they continued being together and they didn’t talk about the incident.
“It was only after the breakup that it came back to me in the form of occasional thoughts, horrifying nightmares and outbursts of sadness and anger that seemingly came out of nowhere,” she says. “Regardless of whether I consciously acknowledged what happened, my mind and body remembered.”
Dawn decided that she needed her ex to concede that the rape happened as she didn’t want him to believe his actions held no consequences. She eventually managed to get closure from him and considers herself fortunate since many rape victims don’t get that chance.
“He and I were on speaking terms and I was able to address it when I felt ready,” she says. “The first few conversations were difficult as I had trouble understanding what rape was, and if it was possible between intimate partners. I was also struggling with being a victim and
felt shame over what had happened.”
“He was only apologetic after a couple of conversations where I opened up about what I was going through. My guess was that he had his own struggles and was in denial over what happened. He thought he didn’t do anything wrong then, so it took a while for us to reconcile,” she says.
She also chose not to make a police report. “I really cared for and loved my then- boyfriend. I felt like making a police report might ruin his future prospects, so I decided to just let it go.”
Despite the traumatic experience, it hasn’t made her see men differently.
“I wouldn’t say I’m distrusting of men. I’m just generally hyper-vigilant. I’m very aware of physical contact and wary of, say, walking home alone at night,” she says. “But this wariness hasn’t stopped me from living my life. I still stay out and do whatever makes me happy. I deserve to live my life, and I refuse to let all these negative experiences take that right away from me.”
Nevertheless, she has learnt an important lesson from the ordeal.
“No type of arrangement or relationship should take away a person’s individual right and autonomy over their own body and mind,” she says. “If you don’t want to take part in a particular act or change your mind halfway through, you have every right to stop and your decision should be respected. Otherwise, it’s violence and abuse.”
Dawn has shared her contact information so anyone going through a similar experience can get in touch with her. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.