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Breaking the vicious cycle of domestic abuse
Publication Date : 21-08-2013
Former victims of domestic abuse share their stories hoping to inspire others in abusive relationships to seek help and end the cycle of violence
Angry shouts pierce the walls, and cries of pain ring out through the night. Bruises and black eyes are the more obvious signs of domestic violence, but spousal abuse can manifest in many other forms.
According to the 2012 annual report of Malaysian womens' rights advocate, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), 82 women sought refuge at their shelter last year due to domestic violence.
Women in violent homes are also subjected to psychological and sexual abuse, verbal harassment, and even financial abuses, such as husbands withholding the necessary funds for survival.
Sometimes, these misdeeds go public, such as the recent ongoing case of a man who assaulted his wife in an elevator while their two children watched in horror.
However, many others continue to suffer in silence.
Survivors at the WAO shelter chose to share their stories with The Star Online, in the hopes of inspiring others like them to seek help and stop the violence against women and children.
“He was not like that at the start,” said Ana (not her real name) of her abusive husband.
They had been together for 18 years, and though she was always patient with his faults, the beatings started to take their toll.
“He had no breaks. Angry a bit, hit. Angry a bit, hit. He would get angry at every little thing and beat me,” said Ana.
As her partner was someone who preferred playing football over holding down a decent job, Ana said times were tough for their family.
“I looked for money, and so did he. He wasn’t very good at it, and I was not allowed to use whatever little money he earned. I was often very hungry,” she said. Over the last three years, the situation worsened to a point of no return.
“I thought of leaving him for over a month. Then, I came to Malaysia via Myanmar and Thailand. I took one child here, and he took the other one.
“My heart is spent. I don’t want to go through it any more,” said Ana.
Debra (not her real name) truly thought that it would be different the second time around.
“My husband was married before, and he had abused his first wife,” she said. Even before they tied the knot, he often subjected Debra to beatings.
After his divorce, Debra chose to marry her abuser as she thought he would change his ways. But he never did.
“I thought: if I give him children, maybe he would change. I bore him three children and adjusted myself to his actions, but he’s still the same,” said Debra of their 17-year-relationship.
This year, she called it quits after realising that he would never change.
“We always fight over a third person, it’s never about the both of us. He’s very jealous and he always listens to what other people say,” she said.
Both Debra and her husband are ill with diabetes, which causes a short fuse in the latter.
“He is unable to control his temper. Once he gets angry, I also get angry. But I control myself, I keep quiet. But how long can I stay silent?” she said.
“It’s hard because I love him and he loves me very much. But I left him for our children’s sake. I want them to be happy. I don’t want them to grow up and always see us fighting,” said Debra of her decision to walk away.
“He was caring at first,” said Maya of her nine-year marriage to a man six years her junior.
In the first five years, only the usual arguments took place, and he “only slapped" her then. But the abuse escalated over the last few years.
“Neither of us were unfaithful. When he was angry, I would just keep quiet. When he doesn’t like something, he’ll keep it in his heart for days. Then, one small thing would make him unleash everything,” said Maya.
She used to work while pregnant with their third child, but her husband had many suspicions about her relationship with her boss.
“I asked for a transfer because I didn’t want any complications. He knew there was nothing going on, but he complained and asked me to stop work, so I did,” she said. Unfortunately, the situation only worsened.
Her husband had dreams that she was unfaithful, and treated those illusions as though they were real.
“Even if I never went anywhere and only remained at home, he found fault with me. If our children cried or if dishes broke by accident, he would tell my child that I was stupid, that I was a prostitute.
“I told him not to humiliate me in front of our children, to talk to me nicely. Because I respect him and he should respect me, but he didn’t,” she said. When she could not take his verbal abuse and “answered back”, beatings would follow.
“If he thought I was being kurang ajar (impolite), I’d get beaten up half to death, till I bled. He would beat me over small things, or without reason.
“Even if I wanted to cry, my tears have all dried up. He doesn’t view me as a woman: the way he beat me was the way gangsters would fight each other,” said Maya.
After a bad beating, Maya would get kicked out of their home. When she returned after a few days, her husband would show regret and ask for forgiveness, stating that he “couldn’t think” during the beatings.
Thought she made dozens of police reports, she never asked for him to be arrested. The regularity of her appearances at the police station even earned her scoldings from the boys in blue for not asking them to arrest her abuser.
When asked about her decision, Maya replied: “I still think of him as the father of my children. I don’t want them to witness their father getting caught by the police and give them added trauma.”
But the change would not last: he even seemed proud that his actions were reported to the police. He would beat Maya in front of their children, to the point where they begged him to stop beating her.
“When we fight, my child’s expression is empty from watching the same scene. I’ve brought my child to visit the psychiatrist at a hospital, and the doctor said it was a case of emotional pressure and mental trauma,” said Maya. She finally ran out of patience after a severe beating six months ago.
“I have not gone back because of my kids. For around five to seven years, they used to watch me being beaten every day,” she said. After getting thrown out, Maya usually tries to bring her kids along with her. This time, two of them had to be left behind.
“They were holding their father back, and they told me to run first and get them later. But until now, I haven’t managed to do so. He shifted away and brought them with him. I haven’t seen them for a few months,” she said.
Maya shared that her husband came from an abusive family, and that his own father used to beat his mother.
“I used to say: those are memories from the past. Don’t bring it into your new life, into your own family. Maybe he was traumatised and the effects carried over into our marriage,” she said. Since she left, her husband has threatened to murder her and kidnap the child she took away.
“From the time I married him even up to after we separated, he has given me mental stress with all these threats.
“I don’t even dare to go see my children at school. He warned me that if he saw me there, he would beat me. Who knows, someone might tell him I was there, and he might hurt our children,” she said.
She has turned off her mobile phone so he can’t contact or message her, and feels a temporary peace.
“I had to leave him as I couldn’t take it anymore. So I asked for protection and came to this refuge,” she said of her new home at the WAO shelter. With the help of WAO, she is collecting all the necessary facts and evidence against her husband to fight him in court.
“I will fight him for my children and for my freedom,” she said.