SINGAPORE - A mother of three children had been severely sexually abused, beaten and confined in her home by her husband for 15 years. It took a passer-by to notice it and advise her to apply for a Personal Protection Order. She has since divorced her husband and got a job to support herself and her children.
Her story could have had a different ending, if no one had noticed her plight and done something about it. Last year, two-year-old Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser died after being slapped and kicked almost daily by his mother and her boyfriend. They stomped on his chest and force-fed him dried chilli.
"Could we, or anyone, have sounded the alarm earlier? After all, we too could be a house mate, neighbour, relative, friend or passer-by to a victim of family violence who is crying out in distress," said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin at the National Family Violence Networking System conference on Wednesday morning (Nov 16).
"As long as violence in the home is shrouded in silence, the violence will not cease. We can prevent other Daniels. We can prevent other horror stories," added Mr Tan as he launched a three-year campaign aimed at creating more awareness about family violence.
Called Break the Silence, the campaign targets people who have witnessed acts of family violence and hopes to teach them how to safely step in to help those who may be affected.
The campaign comes even as the number of child abuse cases has surged over the years. Last year, the Ministry of Social and Family Development(MSF) investigated 551 serious cases of child abuse, up from 263 in 2008. Over the last five years, family service centres reported an average of 1,400 cases every year that have elements of family violence. Elder abuse cases make up about 200 cases every year.
MSF released a study at the conference that found that people were not coming forward to report such cases because they feared breaking up families or saw it as a private matter. The study polled 2,000 people.
"Not every report (on family violence) will lead to the break-up of families. Some social workers tell me early reporting can actually help save marriages and keep families intact," said Mr Tan as he appealed to the audience of 800 professionals, from the judicial, law enforcement, healthcare, social services and academic sectors, to spread the word to get people in the community to flag out violence cases.
Research has shown that elder abuse victims face an increased risk of premature death. Studies have also shown that childhood exposure to violence leads to poorer health and mental health, with some of the trauma lasting a lifetime.