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Mon, Sep 07, 2009
The New Paper
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Remaking lives of abused women
by Shree Ann Mathavan

Above pic: Madam Azrahayu Ahmad Afandi, the manager of Star Shelter, counsels women from all socio-economic sectors. Star Shelter is a temporary refuge for women, babies and young children who are in abusive relationship.

WHEN Mandy, 39, smiles in front of the mirror, the missing tooth she sees is a reminder of the physical abuse she suffered from her husband.

But hopefully, in a few months, Mandy (we are not using her real name to protect her identity) will once again see her pretty face with a perfect smile.

That’s because Pacific Healthcare Group will start offering battered women like her free health services, including reconstructive surgery.

Today, the group will officially adopt Star Shelter, a temporary refuge for women, babies and young children who are in abusive relationships.

The health services provider is in the midst of assessing the needs of the battered women from the shelter.

The services it will provide include those in the areas of gynaecology, counselling and dentistry.

Two of the doctors from Pacific Healthcare, the group’s director, plastic surgeon Martin Huang, 48, and chairman, dental surgeon William Chong, 47, will together be donating $25,000 of their own money to the shelter’s Rebuilding Lives Fund.

Dr Huang said: “How one perceives oneself is essential... to rebuilding one’s life, especially after persistent trauma.

“To be able to touch the lives of those in need is both an honour and a privilege.”

Mandy is looking forward to the help.

Beaten, she lost a tooth

Her ordeal began five years ago when her husband of over 10 years began beating her.

In an e-mail exchange with The New Paper, she said the couple had quarrelled when she found out he was having an affair. Furious, he started beating her.

Recalling the first beating, she wrote: “I didn’t expect him to lay his hands on me. My face was swollen and my back hurt.

“I cried and felt depressed. I kept questioning myself and wondered if I had done anything wrong.”

That was the first of many other “regular” beatings for the housewife and mother of two school children.

In one of the worst beatings, her husband hit her so hard he knocked out a tooth, leaving her mouth bloodied.

Besides the physical abuse, her husband would also abuse her verbally, calling her a “pig” and “ugly”.

Fortunately, Mandy was referred by a family service centre to Star Shelter this year.

She has been living at the shelter along with more than 20 other women for the past five months.

To ensure the protection of these abused women, the shelter, which is an initiative of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) doesn’t divulge its address.

The abuse has affected Mandy’s self-esteem.

She said: “I am not sure how the doctors can help me, but I do want to look prettier and do something about my missing tooth.”

Madam Azrahayu Ahmad Afandi, 30, the manager of Star Shelter, said the issue of image is especially important for these women.

She said most of the battered women she sees don’t care how they look because they have low self-esteem after years of abuse.

She said: “Over here, I encourage them to dress up, put on some lipstick, because even that makes a difference to how they view themselves.

“For me the most rewarding thing is to watch them grow, to realise their own potential and stand on their own two feet.”

Abuse cuts across all socio-economic sectors, she said, as she has seen all sorts of women who have been subjected to abuse.

One common factor in the profile of these women, however, is that they tend to be giving and self-sacrificing.

They also tend to be financially dependent on their husbands, may view divorce as a stigma and are worried about their kids growing up without a father, said Madam Azrahayu.

She said: “Family violence is usually about power and control. These men are violent because they want to show their authority. Sad to say, some might have come from violent families themselves, so it becomes a cycle.”

Model and host Nadya Hutagalung, 35, knows first-hand what abuse is like, having been in two previously abusive relationships.

Nadya, who is a committee member of Star Shelter, has been speaking out against domestic violence for the past five years.

She said: “My goal is to tell them that there is always hope. No person, man, woman or child deserves to be abused in any form, be it physical or mental. There is no justification for such behaviour.”

Victims of abuse can call the SCWO mainline at 68370611 or the ComCare Call at 1800 222 0000.

This article was first published in The New Paper

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