Generation Grit

Emerging from the shadows of childhood sex abuse

Ms Law Mei Ting, 25, was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend when she was three years old. She struggled with anger and shame for years, and had low self-esteem. Now, after years of counselling, she is speaking up.
Miss Law Mei Ting, 25, needed years of counselling to overcome the trauma of being sexually abused as a child by her mother's boyfriend. She says she has moved on, and wants to look forward now.
Miss Law Mei Ting, 25, needed years of counselling to overcome the trauma of being sexually abused as a child by her mother's boyfriend. She says she has moved on, and wants to look forward now.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Law Mei Ting always felt like the odd one out. She has never met her father, lives with her aunt, and had an unspeakable secret - she was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend. But now she is speaking up in this series on millennials who have overcome the odds.

Miss Law Mei Ting, 25, was molested repeatedly by her mother's boyfriend when she was just three years old.

Growing up, she struggled to cope with anger, shame and loneliness because of the sexual abuse. It affected her so much that at school, she felt she could not connect with the other children, who all seemed to have normal and loving families.

She also had difficulty trusting others, especially men.

Her parents are divorced, and she has never met her father.

For years, she wrestled with forgiving her mother for not protecting her from the abuse and even accusing her of lying about it.

But today, after more than a decade of counselling, the undergraduate says she is ready to come out of the shadows and open up about her past.

"I feel a sense of release when I share (my experiences), and it's no longer something I have to hide," she said, citing as encouragement others who have spoken up about what they went through.

"And I hope those with a similar experience will be able to walk out of their grief one day."

Her own ordeal started when she was three and living with her mother, a blue-collar worker, and her mother's boyfriend.

 
 

She said: "I kept quiet (about the abuse) as I was afraid. I didn't know what (was) right and what (was) wrong."

Her aunt, a former pre-school teacher, suspected something was amiss when Miss Law went from being a happy child to a moody one who was afraid to go to the toilet.

She later told her aunt what had happened, when she probed.

Her aunt called the police, and the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Child Protective Service stepped in to ensure the girl's safety. Miss Law went to live with her aunt, and has been living with her since.

Miss Law said that back then, she did not understand why she had to live apart from her mother. Her aunt, now in her 50s and single, lived with Miss Law's grandparents at that time.

But the man who abused her was never punished for what he did.

By the time she was five or six, Miss Law said, she cried when the authorities asked if she could testify against the man.

She was afraid her mother would be sent to jail as well, for failing to stop the abuse. She said the case was subsequently closed.

From the age of three until her teenage years, she was counselled by psychologists to help her through the trauma of abuse.

"In primary school, I was angry as I felt my mum did not protect me and she abandoned me. I also felt sad as other kids (had) their mum and dad. I also felt guilty as my relationship with my mum became distant (after my aunt reported the abuse)," she said. "It also affected my self-esteem - I felt I was not pure any more."

LEAVING THE PAST BEHIND

I feel a sense of release when I share (my experiences), and it's no longer something I have to hide. And I hope those with a similar experience will be able to walk out of their grief one day.

MISS LAW MEI TING, on why she has chosen to speak up now about having been molested repeatedly when she was just three years old.

She became moody and reserved in school, which she began to hate.

For example, she found it hard to write compositions on the topic of her parents, given what she went through. So she copied how her friends described their parents, and was chided by her teacher for it.

Another time, she was called a fatherless kid by her classmates. Those remarks hurt her deeply.

Her grades suffered, and she repeated her O-level examinations at Chestnut Drive Secondary School.

When she went to Millennia Institute for her pre-university education, she found supportive friends and encouraging teachers. But her personal life was still in disarray.

In her first year there, her grandmother died of a heart attack. Two weeks later, her grandfather suffered a stroke which left him bedridden. She had to take care of him, including bathing and feeding him, on top of her studies.

To add to her inner turmoil, she was going through a rocky patch with her then boyfriend.

She scraped through her A levels with a string of Bs and Cs.

But because of the support and encouragement of the people around her - her aunt, teachers, counsellors and friends - she never entirely lost her way.

She said: "I also read a lot about people who went through hardship. This inspired me to be like them (in overcoming their challenges and embracing the future)."

In particular, her aunt was like a father and mother to her, supporting her financially and emotionally.

She also found a pillar in Mr Mohamed Nasim, then vice-principal of Chestnut Drive Secondary School. He gave her a chance to repeat her O levels and was always encouraging, she said.

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There was also Ms Victoria Hong, her geography teacher at Millennia Institute, who encouraged her to think positively.

"All their encouragement helped me to be more confident and more positive," she said.

She also started to support herself, as she began working part-time at the age of 14.

Now she is studying for a business management degree at the University of London through the Singapore Institute of Management which costs more than $30,000, and she is paying for it herself.

To do so, she gives tuition and piano lessons, up to three to four times a week each.

Ms Hong, 36, her former teacher, described Miss Law as a studious and helpful student, who was always willing to share her notes with other students.

Ms Hong, who is now teaching at Commonwealth Secondary School, said: "I saw her perseverance when she did not do well for tests; she would take the initiative to see me to find out how she could improve. She really worked very hard to get into university."

In recent years, Miss Law said her relationship with her mother has improved as they have spent more time together and tried to be more understanding of each other.

The counselling helped her to forgive her mother and break free from the "toxic cycle of hate", she said.

 
 

"She is, after all, my mum. I have forgiven her," she said.

"But I cannot forgive the molester."

Her mother has told her that he has since died, though she does not know the details.

In any case, she has moved on.

"There will forever be a scar (if you have been sexually abused), but life is a choice. You can choose to let it go and focus on the future, or you can focus on your past and let it affect your life," she said.

"When you forgive, you can start to look forward."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2019, with the headline 'Emerging from the shadows of childhood sex abuse'. Print Edition | Subscribe