You Can Make A Difference Now (YCMADN): Preparing To Leave

Posted on 27 October 2011


THE ODDS were stacked against housewife Atikah Zahar leaving her abusive husband. She was a foreigner who knew only her husband, and she couldn’t get a job as she holds only a social visit pass. Atikah was also terrified that she’d lose custody of her son if she left her house without her husband’s permission.


“He was very controlling. He wouldn’t let me talk to anyone. He would shout at me using vulgar words ... he made me feel worthless. He would throw things at me. In the beginning, I made excuses for him. I thought maybe he would be better if we had a child. But, after we had a child, he was the same. In fact, the abuse worsened,” says Atikah, a Singaporean.


Her father was sympathetic to her plight, but he didn’t want to interfere in her marriage. Instead, he placated his daughter and urged her to save her marriage.”


“I tried to save my marriage but when my husband locked me in a room for a whole day while he was at work, I made up my mind to leave.”


Atikah and her husband finally agreed to a divorce. Although it was a mutual decision, the court process took about four years because her husband made things difficult for her.


“In court, he denied that he asked for a divorce. In fact, he told the court that he wanted me back. He really didn’t want me back ... he just wanted to make things difficult.”


But Atikah was strong and stood her ground.


She was also prepared. After the fateful day when she was locked in the house, Atikah contacted the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) to find out what her rights were. She wanted to know, for example, if she had the right to leave the house with her son without her husband’s permission. She also wanted to make sure her actions would not jeopardise her chances of getting custody of her son. She also found out what she had to prepare before leaving her husband.


After five years, Atikah left and only recently won custody of her child. She hopes to get her Permanant Resident status soon so she can work. In the meantime, she depends on her family for financial support, and on the kindness of her friends.


Atikah’s advice to others in abusive relationships is: “Get help. Find out what your rights are. Every country has laws that protect women, so find out what your rights are. And, if you want to leave, you must have a plan. Don’t just leave like that. You must know what you need to take with you and you must have a place to go. You must have money in your hand. Plan ahead.”


It’s prudent for women in abusive relationships to have a safety plan to protect themselves and their children, in case things got out of hand and they need to leave. Here are some things you could do.

● Memorise or keep important telephone numbers with you, such as that of the police, NGOs like the WAO, helplines, and family or friends who could help you.

● Teach your children how to call 999 in case of an emergency at home. Teach them what they need to say when they call 999 for help — such as their name, the house address and telephone number.

● Identify a few people whom you feel you can trust in an emergency, but who are not mutual friends of you and your partner. Depending on the severity of your situation, you can devise a safety plan with them — if they don’t see or hear from you in a day or two, get them to look for you, or call the police.

● Even if you are not planning on leaving, arrange for temporary shelter should you need to run from your abusive partner.

● If you are planning on leaving, plan carefully. Leave when your partner is not around. If you are picking your children from school, alert the teachers so they know not to call your partner.

● Pack an emergency bag for yourself and your children, and keep it with a neighbour/friend.

● Keep a small amount of money on you at all times, including change for taxi fares. Try and save a small amount of money each week so you have some savings to tide you over when you leave.

● Keep all important documents together — IC/birthcerts/passport/bank books etc — in a file so you could take them with you.

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