When the circuit breaker measures were set in April, some relished getting to spend more time at home with their family, but for others, not being able to leave their home was an alternative that was far more isolating and detrimental to their well-being. According to a report by The Straits Times, there was a 22 per cent increase in domestic violence cases within the first month of the circuit breaker. 

The United Nations Population Fund estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a one-third reduction in progress towards ending gender-based violence by 2030. Across the world, incidents of violence are on the rise during the COVID-19 health crisis.  It’s estimated that if the lockdown continues for 6 months, we’ll see 31 million additional gender-based violence cases. For every 3 months the lockdown continues, an additional 15 million additional cases of gender-based violence are expected.

Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State, Ministry of Social and Family Development & Ministry of Education, and Co-Chair of Taskforce on Family Violence, explains “Staying together in the same household for extended periods can increase domestic friction, quarrels, caregiver stress, and potential for conflict. In addition, being in close physical proximity with abusers, victims might not feel empowered to seek help as they do not have space and privacy to contact their support network.”

Domestic abuse domestic violence during COVID pandemic in Singapore
Credit: 123RF

The early signs of domestic abuse

For Natalya, her partner started being aggressive with his words when they first moved in together. It began with things like telling her to tone down her American-ness or to dress a certain way. Then the controlling behaviour extended to other parts of their relationship. He was drinking excessively, partying, and always wanted her to be there but would ignore her the whole time and give her dirty looks whenever she tried to join in conversations in social situations. 

As the 38 year old shares, “Somehow I knew from the start where this was going but I kept telling myself that maybe it’s just me, that sometimes maybe I’m being too dramatic. I guess sometimes when you have heard it so many times, it gets drilled into your head and you start feeling exactly what they want you to feel. For the longest time, I thought that if someone pointed out my flaws, my ugliness, and my faults, it meant that he loves me, that they care, or that I am wanted. It has taken me a long time to realise that I was wrong – I deserve better and that I am worthy of it.”

When she voiced these concerns to him, that was when the line crossed to physical abuse. Justifications like telling her it was her mouth that’s making him do this to her, along with other hurtful words that would break apart her self-worth. Even then, she kept telling herself that it wasn’t him, it was the alcohol talking or maybe she really did push him to hit her. 

“When someone makes you feel worthless like your opinions don’t matter and when he flares up and starts yelling out of jealousy or because he is stressed or drunk then you are in an abusive relationship. If you catch yourself making excuses for his behaviour, you are in an abusive relationship.”

“Follow your gut,” she goes on to share, “No man should make you feel like you are worthless or that you have no right to speak or be yourself. When a man starts telling you how to dress, how to act, or even how to eat, that’s a sign that he wants to control you, and when you let him slide and control certain aspects of your life, he will try to control everything. Wanting to control even your thoughts and how you feel is also a form of psychological and emotional abuse. When you have to fight hard for his love and you start doubting yourself, that’s when you should run.”

Domestic abuse domestic violence during COVID pandemic in Singapore
Credit: Canva

How fear works in domestic abuse

One of the common questions that are asked around domestic violence is, why do victims stay? While it may seem like a simple option, it isn’t the case in most situations. The reason someone might stay with their abusers is extremely complex. 

Ms Sun shares that victims may not come forward for help for various reasons: Some victims or families may not recognise violence or abusive behaviour, as they have grown used to it. There are instances where victims or family members may be concerned about bringing shame to the family. Others may be concerned about actions that may be taken against the family member who has committed the abuse. They may also be worried about breaking up the family especially if they have young children, or if the perpetrator is the family’s sole breadwinner.

“I was afraid to cut him off because of finances,” shares Natalya, “that I wouldn’t be able to raise my daughter and provide for her without him. I did a lot of research and even though we were never married, my daughter still has her rights and he is still obligated to support her. After that, I had to build up enough courage to take the next step, and I guess the fear that I saw in my daughter’s eyes when she watched me being beaten by him gave me the strength and courage I needed to get rid of him. I never wanted to see that fear in her eyes ever again.”

The mother of a three year old goes on to share, “Having my daughter was the best decision I have ever made. She is my saviour. My daughter deserves to be in a safe environment, she needs to be surrounded by love and that our house is a sanctuary, a safe haven for her to grow in. I also did not want her to have memories of her dad and me arguing and him being physical with me. My daughter is my pillar of strength.”

“I left him on my own, took him to court for her maintenance on my own, I fought hard for the little bit she gets from him. I was and still am afraid that one day he will take her away from me. I only sought help from family services and Daughters Of Tomorrow after I walked through hell on my own. When it was all over, I let myself breakdown, that’s when I needed help to pick the pieces of my shattered life up. I am still healing; it’s been two years and some months and I am still picking up the pieces.”

Domestic abuse domestic violence during COVID pandemic in Singapore
Credit: The Body Shop

Domestic violence should be a concern for everyone

Even if we don’t know it, the statistics show that we all know someone who has gone through domestic violence, and it is a crisis that impacts every aspect of our society. Together with The Body Shop’s #ISOLATEDNOTALONE campaign, NO MORE wants to help victims understand that they’re not alone and support is still available. There are people and organisations that can help keep them safe. Instead of solely putting the responsibility on victims getting help, it should be equally shared on bystanders who are aware of domestic abuse happening in someone else’s life and how we can support them.

Ms Sun emphasises, “Protecting the vulnerable is not just an undertaking for government or social service professionals. It is a whole-of-community effort. This has been the main message behind our Break the Silence Against Family Violence campaign – getting the bystander to raise the alarm.”

Even if we don’t know it, the statistics show that we all know someone who has gone through domestic violence, and it is a crisis that impacts every aspect of our society. Together with The Body Shop’s #ISOLATEDNOTALONE campaign, NO MORE wants to help victims understand that they’re not alone and support is still available. There are people and organisations that can help keep them safe. Instead of solely putting the responsibility on victims getting help, it should be equally shared on bystanders who are aware of domestic abuse happening in someone else’s life and how we can support them.

Pamela Zaballa, the Global Executive Director at NO MORE, explains “Knowing the signs of domestic violence is critical to providing support. A friend or family member might be experiencing abuse if they seem constantly worried about upsetting their partner, talk about how controlling their partner is, often make excuses for the partner’s behaviour, or if they stop spending time with their friends and family. Of course, another sign to look out for is unexplained bruises, marks, or injuries. It’s usually best to follow your instincts. If a situation feels wrong to you, it probably is. Ask yourself ‘If I don’t act, could the situation get worse?’ If yes, then you should determine the best way to safely intervene.”

What should you do if you know someone is experiencing abuse?

Pamela shares, if you believe that a family member or friend is a victim, approach them privately and be prepared to listen. If they’re not ready to tell you everything, let them know that you are a safe person for them to come to in the future. As you talk with them remember to:

  • Listen without judgement. Victims often leave and return to their abuser many times. They still need and deserve your support.
  • Believe them, and do not excuse or defend the perpetrator’s actions.
  • Help them develop a plan to safely leave their abuser if they are ready.
  • Encourage them to seek support services and help them find hotline numbers and shelters if necessary.

Helplines and resources for support

With domestic abuse on the rise, more organisations and brands have banded together to bring awareness to the matter. Kean Hye Yang, General Manager, The Body Shop APAC Brand & Singapore Market, shares “At a local level, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) launched their Break The Silence Against Family Violence campaign in 2016 to raise awareness of family violence. This campaign encourages victims to seek help and also friends and neighbours to step in to report family violence incidents in the community. With The Body Shop Singapore’s decision to join hands with them for this campaign, we want to be able to provide more platforms of communication and augment their efforts in raising awareness and encouraging the community to help keep families safe.”

Here is a list of contacts and resources to reach out to if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse:

  • PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection Specialist Centre: 6555 0390 / admin@pave.org.sg
  • Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre: 6445 0400
  • HEART @ Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre: 6819 9170
  • Care Corner Project StART: 6476 1482
  • TRANS SAFE Centre: 6449 9088
  • ComCare Call 1800-222-0000

The content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a mental health professional or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have about a difficult situation.