Forum: Raise awareness of complexities of family violence

It is heartening to see the Government taking steps to better support family violence victims (Tackling increasingly violent family abuse, Feb 18).

The rise in personal protection order applications suggests that family violence is on the rise; it could also mean that more victims are finally coming forward.

The dynamics of family violence are highly complex and this is compounded when children are involved. Outsiders are often puzzled as to why someone would even enter or stay in an abusive relationship; little do they understand that abusers frequently conceal their abusive traits till the relationship is well under way.

These abusers then subject their victims to a vicious circle where hope - that things will change - is injected between episodes of physical hurt, psychological manipulation, name-calling or a combination of these and others.

A danger facing us is how many tend to stereotype abusers as poorly educated, lowly paid or intoxicated. That is far from the truth. Abusers cut across nationalities, ethnicities, religions and professions, much like their victims.

There is a common pattern in how most abusers work to isolate their victims from external relationships so as to maintain control. Over time, the abuser then establishes himself as the sole voice of reason and validation in the victim's life.

In a conservative society like ours, the courage to come forward is challenged by the traditional notion that we should not wash our dirty laundry in public.

Our worship of academic credentials also means that victims speaking out against white-collar partners in traditionally revered professions can expect to face an uphill climb in the battle for protection and prosecution.

It is not just social agencies that are in need of training on the nature and effects of family violence.

Everyone involved, from the investigating officer, to the magistrate granting the investigation, to the judge adjudicating the matter, plays a pivotal role in closing the gap between the law in the books and the law in practice.

Otherwise, the places that victims run to for safety will inspire little confidence and discourage more from seeking help.

Of utmost importance is any child in the picture. Until the abuser is rendered counselling and rehabilitation help, supervised visitation should be arranged to preserve the safety of minors less capable of defending themselves.

Lily Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2020, with the headline 'Raise awareness of complexities of family violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe