Case studies 8 - 13

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Case studies 8 - 13 by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

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Case 8 – Additional difficulties faced by foreign-citizen survivor

Sofia is a foreign citizen who has been married to her Malaysian husband for ten years. They have four children together. Sofia was first referred to WAO after an incident of abuse by her husband. Throughout their marriage Sofia endured physical, psychological, and financial abuse, and she left multiple times to seek shelter.

Sofia’s husband refused to renew her spousal visa, so she has been living in Malaysia for more than four years without a valid visa. She was forced to return to her husband on multiple occasions because, without a visa, she could not find a job with decent wages and did not have the means to support her four children alone.

For the past two years, Sofia has been in and out of shelters. She tried to avoid calls from her husband, but wanted to be able to speak with her children, who were under the supervision of her mother-in-law. Sofia continued to stay at WAO while looking for jobs. After some time, Sofia got a job offer and was excited that she would finally be able to earn some money. However, hours later, Sofia returned to WAO, this time with her two children. When she had been on the way to her new job, her husband had called and said he was going away, and that Sofia needed to come and pick up the children. Sofia had no choice but to rush to her children, but when she arrived, the two older ones refused to go with her.

She returned to WAO with her two younger children. Sofia was nervous and upset that they could not all stay together, but knew it was best for her children to stay at WAO while she took care of things such as resolving her visa issues and attaining a birth certificate for her youngest son. Sofia’s husband refused to apply for a birth certificate for their youngest son because he believed the child was not his. Without her husband’s physical appearance or his original IC, Sofia’s son would not be categorised as a Malaysian citizen on his birth certificate. As a result of her husband’s ongoing refusal to renew her spousal visa and to apply for their son’s birth certificate, Sofia was forced to maintain contact with her husband.

Sofia has continued to work with her WAO social worker to apply for loans that she can use to fund her visa fees and to get her older children re-admitted and registered into schools. Sofia also found a job and has made a plan with her social worker to obtain her visa and her son’s birth certificate.

Remarks:

·         As a non-citizen wife of a Malaysian citizen, Sofia was entirely dependent on her husband to renew her visa, and by extension to legally work, which made it more difficult for her to escape her abusive situation.

·         Similarly, the impact of the domestic violence also affected Sofia’s son, who would not be designated as a Malaysian citizen unless his father agreed.

Case 9 – Police failed to inform survivor about IPO

Bina and her husband were married for 16 years and ran a business together.  However, within the second year of their marriage, Bina’s husband began physically, psychologically, sexually, socially, and financially abusing her. 

Together, Bina and her husband owned several businesses; however, all of the businesses were held in Bina’s name because only Bina met the necessary legal requirements. After he became paranoid that she was having an affair, Bina’s husband cut her off from all involvement in the business, despite her being a co-manager, and demanded that she stay at home and instead be a homemaker. Bina’s husband then assumed full control over the business and its finances. Without Bina, the business declined, as the workload was overwhelming for just one person to handle. To help him, Bina’s husband recruited his friends to manage and control the finances of the business. He forged Bina’s signature in order to do this.

After years of abuse, Bina filed for division of their matrimonial assets. Bina was referred to WAO by her lawyer. Over the years, she had filed several police reports related to incidents of domestic violence perpetrated by her husband, but she was never informed of the availability of an IPO.

During Bina’s stay at WAO she was accompanied by a social worker to court for mediation with her husband over the division of property. Eventually, her husband was also charged with forgery, and Bina was able to interview for jobs. After a couple more months staying at WAO, Bina was able to find an apartment to rent and began staying on her own.

Remarks:

·         When Bina lodged a police report, the police did not inform her of the availability of an IPO

·         Bina’s husband was charged with forgery, which in this case facilitated his financial abuse of Bina.

Case 10 – Social and financial abuse of survivor leading to isolation

Yasmin had been married to her husband for 12 years, and within the first year of their marriage, her husband began exerting his power over her in the form of physical, psychological, financial, social, and sexual abuse. Yasmin’s family did not approve of the marriage, and so they refused to speak to her. Yasmin’s husband was an undocumented immigrant who wasn’t able to financially provide for his family, due to his lack of legal status for employment. He instead stole money from Yasmin using her ATM card, and would harass Yasmin’s friends and family for loans. As a result, Yasmin was completely socially ostracised and isolated, losing all financial and emotional support from her family and friends.

Yasmin suffered physical abuse on a weekly basis, resulting in injuries and bruises, and on one occasion, a broken neck. Yasmin’s husband’s violent outbursts were usually triggered by alcohol, and he would often attack when drunk. Although Yasmin wanted to be free from her husband’s abuse, she did not want him to get into trouble with the law, and so never filed a police report against him.

Yasmin eventually decided to leave her husband due to his inability to change and the effect that was having on herself and their children. Without any financial support from her family, and with her husband regularly stealing money from her, Yasmin could not afford to buy food and there was nothing to eat at home. A friend referred her to WAO, and from WAO she was able to receive shelter, temporary protection and advice on how to financially support herself and her children. Her WAO social worker also helped Yasmin apply for a birth certificate for her younger son, which she hadn’t done due to his father’s unwillingness to apply for the certificate as a result of his undocumented status. Prior to this, Yasmin’s son could not register for school as he did not have a birth certificate.

After her time at WAO, Yasmin found a house, which she is currently living in with her children and two other residents from the shelter. Yasmin is looking forward to her new life independent of her abusive husband, and is searching for a job to support her family.

Remarks:

·         Many domestic violence cases are marked by the social isolation of the survivor, making the response provided by government agencies and NGOs all the more crucial in supporting the survivor.

·         Prior to coming to WAO, Yasmin was not aware of her right to apply for an IPO to obtain physical protection from her abusive husband

·         Yasmin’s husband is an undocumented immigrant. As a result, he was unwilling to have his name on his son’s birth certificate, which meant that no father would be listed on the child’s birth certificate, potentially leading to future prejudicial treatment.

Case 11 – Financial abuse results in survivor being forced to give children up for adoption

May was a foreign citizen, who married a Malaysian man. A month after their marriage, May and her husband moved to Malaysia. After their arrival, May’s husband became the sole breadwinner and he forbade May from working, making her entirely dependent on him for support.

The physical abuse only began in the fifth year of their marriage, but quickly became frequent. May’s husband would not let her sleep everyday and would physically abuse her weekly. This would include slapping, beating, pulling her hair, kicking, and stepping on her. May’s husband would also force her to engage in sexual activity while he was under the influence of drugs. If May refused, he would scald her with hot water. Finally, after four years of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, May left her abusive home.

The catalyst event occurred one night when May’s husband was under the influence. He began to scold her with vulgar words, calling her names such as ‘prostitute’ and accusing her of having affairs with other men. This led to him attempting to sexually abuse her, but May refused and resisted, causing her husband to beat, kick, step on her, and pull her hair. He also threatened to sell her. The next day, May took herself and her daughter to the police station to file a report. The IO referred her to WAO and she was admitted on the same day.

May’s husband was primarily able to control her by withholding her passport and not even allowing May to see it, so she was unaware of whether she had a spousal visa or not. This also prevented May from going back to her home country. Subsequently, May’s husband stopped working and due to financial constraints, they gave up their two eldest children for adoption. The couple to whom they gave their children did not officially adopt them, but May gave them a letter stating that they were the guardians of the children.

May wanted to separate from her husband and move back to her home country, but was hesitant to file for divorce, as she knew it would take a long time. In an effort to help her get back home, WAO assigned May a social worker, who contacted the embassy of May’s home country. The embassy processed her documents, which included her passport, as well as an air ticket for May to return home. May was able to return and be free from her abusive husband. She was initially reluctant to go back without her children, as she did not believe her husband would take care of them properly. However she was also worried that she would not be able to financially support the children once back in her home country. She ultimately decided to leave her children with their adoptive family and return to her home country alone, after finalising the adoption process through JKM with the help of her WAO social worker.

Remarks:

·         As with many foreign wives who are subject to domestic violence at the hands of their Malaysian husbands, May’s social isolation both contributed to the domestic violence she suffered and made it more difficult for her to seek help.

·         May’s husband withheld her passport from her, so she was neither aware of whether she had a spousal visa, nor was she able to return to her home country until she finally received assistance from her embassy.

·         Ultimately, due to the circumstances she was in as a result of her husband forbidding her from working and making her entirely financial dependent—and subsequently stopping work himself—May was forced to make the difficult decision to give her children for adoption and return to her home country on her own.

Case 12 – Kidnapping by father and husband; withholding of passport

Diya grew up in a physically and psychologically abusive environment at the hands of her father. This caused her and her sisters to leave the house at an early age. Diya’s mother, however, did not escape the abuse and instead used alcohol as a coping mechanism. Diya and her sisters were also heavily affected by the abuse and it took not only a physical, but also a severe emotional toll on them. Diya suffered from depression as a result, and has attempted suicide.

Diya later got married, and was subjected to physical abuse by her husband. Diya and her husband had a legal wedding, but had decided not to have a customary ceremony in order to save money. However Diya’s father continued to insist and harass her into having a wedding, Diya believes with the ulterior motive of receiving gifts and money from friends and family. This caused Diya to move to Singapore in order to earn money to pay for the wedding. During her time in Singapore, Diya discovered that her husband was having an affair. When she returned back to her hometown, her husband and father kidnapped her and confined her in her husband’s house for two weeks. Diya’s father had always had an affinity for her husband, as he had always wanted a son but instead had daughters.

Diya was finally able to escape through a window, allowing her to contact her sister from her neighbour’s home. Diya’s sister took her to the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), one of WAO’s sister organisations, for protection and she was then referred to WAO. She arrived at the WAO shelter without a passport or IC, as her father was in possession of her personal belongings. Diya’s social worker at WAO contacted the police to help Diya regain her passport. However, the police inspector was not only unhelpful, but also tried to persuade Diya to withdraw the case. Despite the fact that she had given her statement to the police several times already, the inspector took no action and instead accused the WAO social worker of harassing him. Diya then tried to seek help from an immigration officer in order to retrieve her passport, but the immigration officer also refused to help her.

Meanwhile, Diya also had growing fears that her father might be trailing her, with the help of her uncle, who was part of the police force. Furthermore, her company in Singapore had lodged a police report against her due to her absence from work and the fact that they could not contact her. This report resulted in Diya being banned from entering Singapore. Luckily, this misunderstanding was rectified by Diya’s WAO social worker, who wrote a letter on Diya’s behalf explaining the circumstances and confirming that Diya was seeking help from WAO.

Eventually, Diya decided to lodge a police report against her father. She has since returned to work and is still pursuing her divorce from her husband.

 

Remarks:

 

·         This case illustrates the potential for domestic violence to be a continuous cycle, wherein a child experiencing or witnessing abuse may grow up and enter an abusive relationship. It also demonstrates the inherent gender biases and patriarchal family structures that make women more vulnerable to domestic violence.

·         Diya met with much resistance when attempting to regain her passport. The authorities she interacted with were uncooperative and unaccommodating, discouraging her from pursuing her passport.

·         Diya feared lodging a police report and involving the police, as her uncle is an influential police official and may have been misusing his power.

 Case 13 – Incorrect information regarding police ability to investigate psychological abuse; school transfer without survivor’s knowledge

Crystal endured 18 years of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband. The abuse began shortly after their first child was born and escalated as time went on. By the time they had four children, Crystal had suffered many physical injuries such as bruises, muscle pain, and swollen body parts. This was the result of her husband's violent behaviour, triggered by his jealousy and psychologically abusive outbursts. At times, he would threaten to kill her with a knife.

Crystal's husband did not allow her to have friends, especially male friends. Her husband's fits of rage and threats would trigger and aggravate her depression, which eventually caused her to leave him. After one such episode, Crystal left her abusive home and found refuge at the WAO Shelter. 

When a social worker accompanied Crystal to meet an IO at the police station and pursue investigation into her domestic violence allegations, as well as get a referral for an IPO, the IO spoke to his superior and told Crystal and her social worker that there was no section under the Penal Code that enabled police to investigate psychological abuse. 

Crystal made the decision to separate from her husband and wanted to file for divorce. Accompanied by a social worker from WAO, she filed an application for a marriage tribunal, setting out to reclaim temporary custody of her four children. Meanwhile, Crystal’s children were still suffering at the hands of her husband. Their eldest son was chased out of her husband's house and the remaining three children had not attended school since Crystal had left the home.

During this time, Crystal went to inquire as to the children’s school attendance. The school bus driver informed her that her son had not been to school since October, and so Crystal and her WAO social worker went to the school and met with the Deputy Headmaster and found out that her husband had transferred her son to a different school a few weeks prior. They also found out that the son had not been going to school for a few weeks leading up to the transfer. Although Crystal’s son had been studying in a Tamil medium school, his father had transferred him to a BM medium school.

Remarks:

·         Like many domestic violence survivors, Crystal was socially isolated and had no solid support network.

·         Upon finding out that her son’s school had been transferred, Crystal questioned the Deputy Headmaster as to how they could transfer her children’s school without informing or seeking consent from her, as she had always been the one to take the children to school and handle administrative matters. The Deputy Headmaster informed Crystal that the father has all the primary rights to transfer the school of children, and if the mother transfers the children without the husband’s knowledge, the husband has the right to sue the school later. Only in cases where the mother has a custody order, can she complete the school transfer unilaterally, even where there has been domestic violence.

·         The IO and his superior were uninformed about the DVA and gave Crystal inaccurate information regarding being able to open an investigation paper based on psychological abuse. The DVA stipulates that the police should have opened a case and referred the client for a mental state assessment so that she could obtain an IPO. 

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