Abused ex-wife named Heroine of the Year for helping others fight violence

Ms Chung fronts Aware's campaign to change social attitudes towards violence. She endured eight years of an abusive marriage. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Ms Chung fronts Aware's campaign to change social attitudes towards violence. She endured eight years of an abusive marriage. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

She is a Heroine of the Year award winner; the other is feminist Constance Singam

Ms Rachel Chung endured eight years of an abusive marriage, where she was beaten and called names such as "fat cow".

But the final straw came when her daughter, then eight, was flung against the wall while trying to protect her from a late-night drunken rampage.

That was seven years ago.

Today, she fronts the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) We Can! campaign to change social attitudes towards violence.

Last night, the communications manager was named Heroine of the Year at the Aware Big Ball, an annual charity fund-raiser, at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.

Ms Chung met her ex-husband, who is 11 years her senior, when she was 20, "young and stupid".

The insults, which began after marriage, slowly escalated into expletives, shoving and beatings, especially after the then operations manager lost his job. "He was very superstitious and he blamed it on me," Ms Chung, 37, said, adding that she tried ways to "not trigger him off".

Even after he was employed as a junior chef, she was still earning more than him, which she said must have really hurt his self-esteem.

"He was always careful not to hit me in front of my daughter," she said. This was until he got careless that night when her daughter was hurt by him.

Ms Chung filed for divorce, and applied for a personal protection order which was breached. Her ex-husband was sentenced to jail for six weeks.

She has sole custody of her two daughters, aged 15 and 10. "The only thing to do is to pick up the broken pieces and move on. I feel I should have done that earlier instead of giving him so many chances. I wish to show the means people can get help." And move on she did.

She is now seeing someone. She said: "I don't believe in stereotyping men. It took me a long time to start trusting again, but I hope my example can show that you should not believe it when an abuser tells you that you are not good enough."

The other Heroine of the Year was feminist Constance Singam, 77, who served as Aware president for six terms and has just published a memoir.

The Corporation and Cause of the Year awards went respectively to management consultancy Accenture and the Singapore University of Technology and Design, for their push to encourage gender equality among their headcount.

"Engineers are the world's problem solvers, and women have a key role to play in that," said Professor Thomas L. Magnanti, president of SUTD, where there are about four female students to six men.

"Having a diverse team ensures we have diverse points of view in everything we do, which leads to a better outcome," said Ms Teo Lay Lim, Accenture's senior managing director for South-east Asia.

Financial Women's Association's mentoring programme won the Initiative of the Year award.

The Alamak! Award, a tongue-in-cheek prize decided by online voting for an event that cements gender stereotypes, went to the St Margaret's School wig episode in July.

Three students who cut their hair to raise funds for a cancer charity drew the ire of their principal when they turned up to school bald, instead of donning wigs. The principal eventually relented.

waltsim@sph.com.sg