Tina's Journey (A 360 Perspective of Domestic Violence)

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 Tina’s Journey

A 360 Perspective of Domestic Violence

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Illustrations of Tina conceptualised and created by Chan Wen Li

Guide to Using Tina’s Journey

As discussed in the Introduction to this report, Tina’s Journey is a fictionalised narrative created from a compilation of the experiences of various survivors, and does not represent the experience of one particular woman whom WAO has assisted.

While case studies and statistics are extremely valuable to illustrate objective realities faced by survivors of domestic violence, it is also useful to understand the subjective thoughts, motivations, and experiences of survivors, which can offer insight into why a survivor remained in an abusive situation for a long period of time, what made her finally take steps to leave, and how she felt during the process of accessing support services and the justice system.

Tina’s Journey is presented with the goal of illustrating what a successful community response to domestic violence, with the survivor at the core, looks like, and can also be utilised as a training exercise for responders to domestic violence. We hope that by experiencing Tina’s Journey through her perspective, and the perspectives of those she encountered throughout the process of seeking support and justice, the reader will have an additional tool for learning why domestic violence is such a serious issue and why a coordinated community response is so critical. To facilitate this learning, Questions for Discussion and a Guide for Discussion follow the narrative, providing a map for reflection and dialogue.

To use Tina’s Journey as a training exercise, participants should:

1.      Break out into groups of seven, with each participant being assigned the role of one character (Tina, the doctor, the WAO Crisis Support Officer, the WAO Social Worker, the IO, the Welfare Officer, or the DPP).

2.      Read through the entire narrative, but assume the perspective of the character you are playing.

3.      Discuss the questions that follow the narrative.

Tina’s Journey

Tina

I was once a happily married mother of one. I was born in Kuala Lumpur and have lived here all my life. I graduated from university and started working full-time soon afterward. It was then that I met him. He courted me and treated me so sweetly, more so than any man I’d ever met. We fell in love, got married, and had a baby girl. I told him I wanted to keep working and support the family, but he insisted that I quit my full-time job and take a part-time one instead. He told me to do it for our child, even though I knew it was possible for both of us to work full-time and hire a sitter to take care of our daughter. But I loved him and our growing family, so I obliged and found part-time work elsewhere.

I started cooking, cleaning, and doing most of the household chores; he was grateful at first, but soon got into the habit of nitpicking every little mistake I made. The dishes weren’t completely clean, or our dinner was slightly burnt. He told me that I wasn’t a good cook, and then he told me I wasn’t a good spouse. It hurt the most when he told me that I wasn’t a good mother. I believed him though, and that’s when I really started to lose my self-esteem.

He told me that a good spouse does everything she can to please her husband, even if it means doing something she does not want to do. Whenever I resisted, he did it anyway. I read one time in the news that this is called marital rape, but I didn’t think my husband was that kind of person.

Our relationship really fell apart after he lost his job. Now he spent all of his time at home, but he didn’t share in any of the household chores. He sat in anger all the time; our days were fraught with negativity. At first it was just a slap on the wrist, but soon this turned into hits across the head. One of the worst days was when we got into a fight, and in a bout of frustration, he pushed me down the stairs. I was worried that I’d broken an arm, and took a cab to the hospital straight away. Thankfully the doctor didn’t notice anything unusual (and I didn’t want to tell her that the fall wasn’t an accident), so I returned home to find my husband, full of remorse and holding a bouquet of flowers. This was the sweetest he’d been since we first got married, and I was happy to return to the life we once had together. I was sure that the worst was behind us.

The good days soon came to an end when his short temper came back. I worried that he would return to his violent ways, so I called my sister and asked for advice. She listened attentively while I told her everything -- how he treated me, how I felt because of it. She offered all of the love and support that she could from her end, but she could only do so much. “Every couple has their rough patches,” she would remind me. I knew that my sister always had my best interests at heart, so I believed her and tried to stay strong despite his bad temper. I thought about calling my mother as well, but I didn’t want to burden her. She knew that my husband came from a good family, and I didn’t want her to bear the stigma of her daughter’s failing marriage. Besides, what could she do about it anyway? I decided to stay strong not only for my daughter, but for my sister and mother as well.

My strength was tested one afternoon after I’d come home late from work. He asked me why I hadn’t come home on time. I told him that I had to work overtime, but no matter how many times I explained it, he wouldn’t believe me. He kept insisting that I had gone to see my old friend from university, but I asked him how I could do that if he never let me see my friends in the first place. This went on and on -- him accusing, me defending, until he smashed his empty beer bottle against the table and held its jagged end at my neck. I couldn’t imagine how our daughter did her homework listening to this noise from the room next door.

I didn’t want my daughter to see me like this. I said whatever I needed to say to make my husband put the weapon down. I thought my incessant pleas had worked, only to realize he’d stopped once I started shedding blood. I made my second trip to the hospital that night.

My husband snapped out of it on the ride to the hospital. He apologized the whole way there, but incessant words can’t heal an open wound. At the hospital, he was with me and my daughter in the waiting room and came in with me when I went to see the doctor as well. He thought he was being helpful, but I didn’t feel safe with him watching my every move. I felt an even greater pressure when the doctor came; I feared what would happen to me and my daughter if I didn’t lie about my injury. My head was swimming trying to come up with a plausible explanation when the doctor entered.

Doctor

A woman came into the hospital covering her neck, her husband and daughter trailing behind. Her voice wavered as she tried to explain what had happened that evening. She said something about setting up the dinner table, dropping a drinking glass, trying to clean it up and stumbling in the process. Her story didn’t really make sense; her husband’s presence suggested that there was something more sinister going on. To make the woman feel safe and comfortable, I asked that her husband and daughter leave the room so that I could examine the patient in private.

As the door closed behind them, I told the woman gently that from a medical perspective, those wounds did not look accidental. Her expression grew tense as I explained how I’d seen her fear before in others; it hurt to see another potential victim of domestic violence silenced by the trauma accumulated over months, or even years of abuse. I figured that compassion was what she needed most at the time. She kept silent throughout the talk and treatment, but she also stopped trying to explain herself. I gave her a slip of paper with WAO’s number on it before she left, explaining that this was a resource she could turn to for support, guidance, and information about domestic abuse. She left the hospital, the paper tucked safely away in her purse.

WAO Crisis Support Officer

One evening when I was volunteering at WAO after a day of work, I received a call on the WAO Hotline from a woman named Tina. She said she couldn’t talk for long, as her husband would be back home soon. From my training as a volunteer Crisis Support Officer and my experience taking calls from survivors of domestic violence on the Hotline, I could hear the fear in Tina’s voice. She said she just wanted to know what WAO was, so I gave her a brief introduction before she told me she was being abused. At least, she said, she thought she was being abused - she wasn’t really sure. She only knew she was looking for someone to talk to, and that she might need a place to stay at some point. I gave her our address and suggested she come speak with us at the office sometime next week. She agreed, saying that she would call in sick one day and come over.

WAO Social Worker

Tina came alone to the Refuge the following Tuesday. A few kids peeked around the corner as she walked through the office and into the Counselling Room.

Tina didn’t say much at first, so I went through the basics, starting with a risk assessment. It was important to determine the level of danger she was in to assess if it was safe for her to talk, if she needed a place to stay, and if she had any kind of support system. I asked her about her husband, and about what he did to her and to their daughter. It sounded like she was having trouble answering these questions directly, so I decided to step back and explain a bit about what domestic violence is.

I explained that at the crux of domestic is a power imbalance, wherein one partner in a relationship exerts their control over the other partner in an ongoing and cyclical way, with there often being periods of calm and harmony before tension would start to build up again, culminating in an abusive incident, followed by remorse, and so-on. Although she didn’t say anything, understanding seemed to register on her face.

I also introduced her to the different types of abuse, from physical, to psychological, financial, social, and sexual. Still, she remained quiet, her face slightly down and only nodding intermittently throughout my explanation. I once again decided to turn the conversation in another direction.

Me: What should a marriage look like?

Tina: Love.

Me: And what does love look like to you?

Tina: A happy home… Children… Stability..?

Me: Do you think your marriage looks like that?”

Tina: Um… yes… I would say so. Mostly.

Me: Does your marriage make you happy?

Tina: Well, it does most of the time. I mean, all families have fights, right? No marriage is perfect, so we are bound to have some disagreements…

Me: When are the times that you’re not happy?

Tina: ...When he’s angry.

Me: Can you tell me what happens when he’s angry?

Tina: ...He hits me.

Me: Tina, do you think violence is a part of every marriage?

Tina: … Well no, it’s not in every marriage, but I can understand why he uses it… I do make mistakes…

Me: Do you think you need it in your marriage?

Tina: Well... I don’t know if I need it in my marriage… He uses it to warn me of my mistakes, and that makes me want to do things better but… I don’t know....

Me: Would you say that you’ve gotten better?

Tina: If I’d gotten better, then he would’ve stopped hitting me a long time ago… I live my life in fear of making a mistake, of enduring another punishment, of the possibility of seeing him lose his temper with our daughter the same way he loses his temper with me.

This fear affects the way I work—I’m always on edge--and then I make mistakes, which only makes him hurt me more...I don’t know what to do. I want to be a better wife but I can’t be a better wife if I’m always afraid. I fear for myself, but even more for my daughter… I can’t stand to let her see me so afraid. She has endured enough already. I want to do something but I don’t know what to do…

Me: You don’t have to worry, Tina. Whatever you decide to do, always know that we are here to help you every step of the way. I have some options for women who share the same worries that you do. Would you like me to go through them with you?

Tina: Yes, I would like that a lot… thank you.

Me: The first thing some women choose to do is file a police report. Keep it concise and with an actionable offence. This means that you have to tell the police exactly how your husband broke the law by hurting you. I can accompany you to the police station if that makes you feel more comfortable.

Tina: Wait, wait… Are they going to arrest my husband! He’s not a criminal! No, I don’t want to take such drastic action against him.

Me: I understand, Tina, but the police will first do their investigation. They will only contact your husband and ask for his statement with respect to your report. The police can also help you obtain an IPO.

Tina: And what is an IPO?

Me: An IPO is an Interim Protection Order. This prevents your husband from abusing you further during the investigation. Your investigation officer, IO for short, will give you a referral letter that states that the police are investigating the case. Then you hand this letter to the Welfare Officer at your nearest Welfare Department and ask for an IPO.

Your Welfare Officer will accompany you to court to obtain the IPO. You can also extend its protection to your daughter. And you can be assured that the police will only arrest your husband if he violates your IPO. Is this something you want to do?

Tina: I’m not sure if I can do this alone... I’m afraid of what my husband might do to me or my daughter if he finds out I’m doing this.

Me: We’re here to help you every step of the way, Tina. Our Refuge is always open if you and your daughter need physical protection from your husband.

Tina: Okay… I trust you. Yes, I think I’m ready.

Police Investigation Officer (IO)

A timid-looking woman came into the office during my shift. She spoke softly but firmly, asking where she could file a police report. She’d never done this before, she said, but she told me that her husband had been beating her and she was scared that he would do it again. I’d gone through training about how to handle cases of domestic violence before, but those were a while ago and I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I first turned to my colleagues for help, but their responses weren’t very helpful. “Another domestic violence case?” one of them told me. “You know she’s just going to retract her statement, right?” Another complained that these women don’t know how to file a proper report, unsure of what they want from us, but leaving us with more paperwork to do. My colleagues had a lot more experience on the job than I did, but something about what they said didn’t sit right with me. I gave the woman a form to fill out while I looked around the office for more informative materials, combing through our files until I found it: Garis Panduan Pengendalian Kes Keganasan Rumah Tangga. I scanned through it to refresh my memory, and then returned to the woman, now knowing exactly what to do.  

She put her pen down as I came back, showing me her halfway-completed form. I glanced at the paper for her name before asking, “Tina, can I help you with anything?” She told me she was scared. She said her husband wasn’t a criminal, her husband was her husband — she’d never known anyone that had been arrested, let alone served time in jail. Panic rose in her voice with every question she asked. She still loved the man she thought she was sending to jail. I reassured her, explaining that the legal procedure for domestic violence cases didn’t allow the authorities to simply arrest a suspected criminal. I couldn’t remedy the conflict of emotions she felt in reporting a man she had loved and trusted for years, or the repercussions that came with him finding out about her report. I considered calling in her husband and trying to help mediate whatever disputes they had, but I decided against it. I didn’t want Tina to feel more unsafe than she already did. Besides, I knew there were other agencies who could counsel the couple if they both decided that would help them-- I had read this in the manual.

I helped Tina complete her statement and told her what was next for her case. I informed her about the beginning of the investigation and how I would start with gathering evidence for her case, from collecting medical reports, to weapons the perpetrator had used, to statements from witnesses including her daughter and other family members, and also her husband. In the meantime, I gave her a referral letter for an IPO and a copy of the police report. She seemed knowledgeable about the process already, but I quickly gave her a short outline of the steps to take. After that, I also told her that I could accompany her to her home to collect her personal belongings if she wanted to stay somewhere else temporarily.

She seemed to feel reassured and asked for assistance to collect some essential belongings from her home and to pick up her daughter. We arranged for this to happen in the afternoon the next day, after I notified her husband of the investigation. She then left the police station.

Tina

Walking out of the police station, I was still cautious of my surroundings. My next destination was the Refuge but I couldn’t help but feel anxious. My daughter and I were one step closer to safety, albeit a temporary one, and yet I was afraid of my husband somehow finding us.

Upon arrival at the shelter, I was warmly greeted by my social worker and some of the residents of the shelter. I was introduced to the staff at the Refuge and was notified of some house rules. A tour of the area followed, and after that, I settled onto my bed.

My mind swirled with thoughts of my daughter, as she was still in our apartment with her father. I wondered if he had hit or yelled at her, as he did to me, or whether he had gone so far as to take her away from our apartment. As difficult as it was, I kept reminding myself that I’d done the best I could at this stage and that we would be reunited after tonight. The other residents approached me, asking how I was feeling. It was soothing seeing them carry on with their lives and knowing that I was not alone in the situation.

Hours passed and the time finally came to meet with my IO to head over to my home. My social worker also accompanied me and when we rang the doorbell, I felt like my heart stopped for a few seconds as I waited in anticipation for my husband to open the door. Sure enough, he did, looking disgruntled as he stared my IO in the eye and asked what we were there for. The IO explained that we had come to collect my personal belongings and most importantly, my daughter. My husband reluctantly stepped aside and allowed us in, now directing his stare towards me. I wanted to get this over and done with and I was relieved when I saw my daughter sitting at her small desk, unharmed. I hugged her, then hastily grabbed what I needed, eager to leave. Thankfully, the ordeal was over without an altercation.

I thanked the IO for helping us. Without him, I doubt I would have been able to leave safely with my daughter, even with my social worker having accompanied me. As my daughter and I entered the car, I thought about the consequences of my decision. I was actually leaving my husband. Was it the right thing to do? How would my mother, sister, relatives, and friends react to this? What would my husband do next? How would the future turn out for my daughter and me? Was it wrong to think that there might still be an ounce of good left in him?

We returned to the Refuge and my social worker could see some hesitance from me as we re-entered the shelter. She asked if we could chat, so we went into the counselling room while my daughter took a nap. I started telling her about my reservations regarding continuing the process, but she assured me that I had to be strong for my daughter and myself, and that I ultimately had to make the best decision for the both of us. She reminded me of the times I believed he would stop abusing me, and of my trips to the hospital. She also highlighted that I was not alone in this, regardless of what I chose to do. I came out of the room feeling that this path was my best option and that I should at least wait for the outcome of the IO’s investigation.

In the meantime, I was happy to find some normalcy in our lives at the Refuge. My daughter continued her studies through the home-schooling programme. I was also surprised by the perceptiveness of the staff there -- they noticed that she was quite reserved and afraid of communicating with people other than me, subtly flinching when they approached her. They said this could be a result of hearing or witnessing my husband’s abuse towards me. Hence, they enrolled her in play therapy, and slowly, over the next several weeks, she began to interact with the social workers and the other children in the shelter. When I saw her playing and laughing like she used to, before things got really bad at home, it brought tears to my eyes.

Welfare Officer

A woman and her social worker walked up to the counter when their number was called, asking to apply for an IPO. I recognised the social worker as I had attended to similar cases with her before. I asked for the necessary documents to apply for an IPO--the police report, referral letter from the IO, and her medical report. They had come well-prepared, and I was able prepare the application quickly. I told them about the upcoming court hearing to grant the woman the IPO. I was able to obtain the IPO for her within a day.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP)

I received Tina’s case shortly after the IO completed his investigation. I’d handled several cases involving domestic violence before, thus I was familiar with the procedure. Despite my busy schedule, I always made it a point to meet my clients at least once before their court hearing. This is not done by all DPPs, but I like to get some understanding of my client and her case, in addition to reading the facts. Additionally, I like to emotionally and mentally prepare them, as I understand court proceedings may be daunting for some, especially if the case is violent in nature, and where confrontation with the perpetrator is likely.

My first meeting with Tina and her social worker was fruitful. She hesitantly entered the room, glancing around; however, she spoke confidently of the key points of her case. I informed her of potential distress from the questions asked by her husband’s lawyer or by the presence of her husband in the courtroom. I also told her about applying for a year-long Protection Order (PO), which is a restraining order against her husband that would prevent her husband from abusing her and her daughter. Tina took a deep breath and nodded. I assured her that I would do my best--I figured she still had mixed feelings regarding her decision so I did my best to empathise with her and reassure her.

After looking at the facts of her case, I decided to charge her husband under Section 321 (“Voluntarily causing hurt”), Section 322 (“Voluntarily causing grievous hurt”), and Section 324 (“Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means”) of the Penal Code. These charges corresponded with the physical abuse which Tina’s husband subjected her to, including hitting her, breaking her arm, and cutting her with a piece of glass. I also contemplated whether to include a charge under Section 375A (“Husband causing hurt in order to have sexual intercourse”); however, I decided not to include this since I knew from an evidentiary perspective that it would be almost impossible to prove, as Tina had never gone to the doctor or filed a police report after her husband forced her to have intercourse, even though she had developed bruises around her wrists when he had held her down.

Her husband pleaded not guilty to all charges, so we proceeded to trial. During the court hearings, there were cross-examinations of witnesses and other evidence submitted to the court, including the doctor who attended to her at the hospital, her family members, and her daughter. Tina’s daughter was cross-examined in the courtroom with a white cloth shielding her view of her father. This was to prevent any coercion or distress caused from seeing her father, to put her at ease and also ensure that her statement was thorough and unchanged. The evidence provided weighed in Tina’s favour at the end of the proceedings.


The “Tina” I met at the start of the trial was completely different than the “Tina” I’d come to know. I received regular updates on her case from her social worker at every court proceeding, and from Tina herself when she came for those proceedings where her presence was required. Tina became stronger, returning to her empowered and independent self (as she herself described) that she was prior to the abuse. I could see it in her mannerisms in court, in the way she delivered her testimony to the judge, and in how she found a full-time job halfway through the trial. I think the support she eventually received from her mother and sister helped also.

Tina’s journey culminated in her personally delivering her Victim Impact Statement (VIS) following the guilty verdict and before a decision on her husband’s sentencing. With her mother, sister and social worker supporting her at the public gallery, she went through her experiences in poignant detail, outlining how domestic violence had affected her life and how she’d felt throughout the ordeal and to this day. In particular, she described the severe psychological impact the abuse had had on her. Tina shared that she would still become rattled and agitated when she returned home from work, because that was the time her husband would begin his abuse. These details were crucial for the court to understand, as they made a difference in the punishment assessed.

Ultimately, Tina’s husband was sentenced to 24 months in prison.

Tina

Part of me still feels some affection, and even sympathy, towards my husband because we shared some good memories during our time together. We had our beautiful daughter, and I know we loved each other. 

However, walking out of the courtroom after his sentencing, I felt relieved. I remembered all the times he had shouted at me, hit me, and made me lose my confidence in myself. Months of self-doubt, sleepless nights, counselling, and reassurance had led to this day. Time will only tell what will happen to my daughter and me, but for now, I believe we are doing better than ever.

Currently, my daughter lives in WAO’s Child Care Centre and I am staying with my sister while I get back on my feet. My daughter tells me about her experiences during my weekly visits to the Centre. Her play therapy sessions continue, she goes to school, and receives pastoral and academic support. She is now more open, warmer, and more responsive to her environment, and is doing well in school. Although I wish I could spend most of my days with my daughter, I am doing my best to work hard, save and earn enough money to rent a small apartment, and provide for her.

God only knows what would’ve happened if I had stayed with him. I could’ve waited for him to come to his senses, hoping we would return to the early days of our relationship. Yet, as I learnt about the nature of domestic violence, reflected on my relationship with him and listened to other survivors like me talk about their experiences, I am ever more certain that the violence would’ve continued. I’ve realised that my daughter and I deserve to be treated with respect, and to live a life free from violence.

I am grateful for the support I’ve received and how far I’ve come. From my family, to the doctor, police, DPP, and the people at WAO, I could not have done it alone. My parents were initially sceptical, believing I was too sensitive or I was not doing enough to save my marriage. This gradually changed throughout the court hearings as they were able to see beyond the traditional norms of our culture and understand domestic violence. Furthermore, the relationships fostered during my time at the Refuge and the support I received from my social worker empowered me to save my life.

I know we have a long way to go before my daughter and I can live the life I envision. Yet, I have faith in the future and I look forward to what it holds for us.

Tina’s Journey - Questions for Discussion

Discuss the following questions, with each participant representing the perspective of their assigned character. The Guide for Discussion highlights certain facts from the narrative and actions taken by the various stakeholders to help facilitate dialogue.

Question 1. How were Tina’s finances affected by domestic violence?

Question 2. What was Tina’s understanding of consent to sex within a marital relationship?

Question 3. Why do you think Tina hid the real cause of her injury from the doctor when seeking treatment?

Question 4. How was the cycle of violence demonstrated in Tina’s experience with domestic violence?

Question 5. How did social isolation contribute to Tina’s experience of domestic violence?

Question 6. How did the doctor who examined Tina identify that she may be a survivor of domestic violence?

Question 7. What role did the WAO social worker play in helping Tina?

Question 8. What positive actions were taken by the police officer handling Tina’s case?

Question 9.  What was Tina’s experience of obtaining an IPO?

Tina’s Journey – A Guide for Discussion