Breaking 17 Years of Silence - Maria\'s Story

Posted on 19 June 2001

Breaking 17 Years of Silence

- Maria's Story

Maria* is from a large Christian family. She met her husband when she was volunteering for a children's home, and found him to be a loving and gentle person. After the first year of their marriage, Maria became pregnant with their first child. This was when the nightmare began.

Her husband would refuse to talk or communicate with her, and when she questioned him about anything, he would yell at her and scream, "It's my wish!". He would then repeatedly hit her shoulders, her arms, her body, pull her hair and kick her. On several occassions, he even kicked her on her pregnant stomach.

Maria thought that all marriages were like this behind closed doors. Her husband would be the perfect man in front of others, considerate and gentle. But when they were alone at home, he would abuse her. Even in front of the children.

He would provoke her, hit her, and then be especially loving to her. When he was loving, Maria would be see the man that she fell for before her marriage. She would be convinced that the abuse would stop. But it never lasted for more than a few days before he would abuse her again. Maria believed that she had to take anything that comes in a marriage, and that the abuse was part of the ups and downs of the reality of married life. She kept her silence.

The abuse continued for 17 years. There were so many times where Maria felt like she needed to cry, but no tears would come to relieve her of her pain. It was the mental abuse that tortured her most.

On many occassions, he would hit her and leave her alone in the car with the engine running on the highway, knowing that she couldn't drive. This made her feel so frightened and powerless that she would run after him to plead for him to return. He used to enjoy making her feel totally dependent on him in this way. He would also steal her household allowance, and then accuse her of spending the money. Their son had witnessed him taking the money several times, and when he tried to defend his mother, his father would scream at Maria and call her "Bitch! Cheat! Liar!" This would make her so mixed-up that she wouldn't know whether she took the money or not.

When she was working, her husband would constantly put her down and make her feel incompetent and worthless. "Do you think you are so smart? Don't think you can do the job because you can't. You have no brains." Taunts like this made her lose her confidence in herself. It really hurt her to have had a husband who was not supportive of her endeavours. Despite the fact that her employer was impressed with her performance, she felt that couldn't cope with the job and resigned.

Maria felt that she had to stay in the relationship to maintain the family's reputation. Because of their active involvement in the Church and in the children's home, she felt that she needed to keep up a good front. There were times when Maria tried to seek help from he Church. But her husband would impress the marriage counsellors by saying, "I am a good Christian, I know my duty as a husband, and I will abide by it." When they were at home however, he would only laugh at their efforts.

After the birth of their third child, Maria tried to go to the police for help. However, the Domestic Violence Act was not enforced then (1995)**, and the police refused to help her. They would maintain that it is a family matter, and should not be the concern of the police. She returned to the police station almost every year after that to make police reports about the abuse, only to be told that it is a civil case and that she has to go to court. This eventually discouraged her from seeking assistance from the police.

Nobody seemed to be able to help her. Maria felt completely alienated and alone.

The only person that constantly gave her support was her elder brother. He would shed tears at home after visiting Maria and seeing her bruises. Especially when she lied to him and said that she fell down the bathroom or knocked herself by accident. Her brother told her of WAO and their work in domestic violence in 1997. He asked her to seek help or shelter from WAO, but Maria felt that her problem was too large for anyone to solve but herself. "Whatever happened", she thought, "he is my husband".

Even her Christmas was not free from violence. Over a matter as small as the size of a bottle of Nescafe, Maria's husband choked her and punched her for her defiance in daring to suggest a different one than he wanted.

He would persistently exert his power over her by saying, "You are my wife, I can do anything I want to you." He would tell their children that he can "wallop" her as he likes. Maria shrank deeper and deeper into herself. She would hardly speak and she lived in constant fear and confusion in her home. She began to doubt and blame herself for all the abuse. Through the years, her husband had managed to strip her of her friends, confidence and self-belief.

Tragically, her brother passed away in March, 2001. Maria was very distraught over the grief of her loss. Now she felt that she was really alone.

A week after his death, she got into another argument with her husband. He started to hit her. When she fell onto the floor, he continued to kick and stomp her on her stomach. As usual, she held in her pain and pretended as if nothing had happened in order to not further provoke him. She later went to the hospital with her neighbour because she knew that her husband would further batter her in the car if she went with him. That evening, when he returned home from work, he questioned her about her visit to the hospital. He dragged Maria to their neighbour's house to find out if she really did go to the hospital. When their neighbour confirmed this, he claimed that it was his duty as her husband to take her to the hospital if she was ill. However, Maria said that she would choose their neighbour anytime over her husband. This incited his anger. He left the house.

Later that night, after her husband came home, Maria took some sleeping pills to help her sleep. She knew that it was her husband's habit to watch television in the living room downstairs until 2 a.m., so she didn't expect him to be upstairs when she went to say goodnight to her children. But he was hiding behind the door of the children's bedroom. When she went into the room, he sprang out from behind the door and taunted her with a little dance, saying, "I hit you today. I hit you." This shocked her and she ran out of the room to escape. He pulled her arm and dragged her down the stairs in her nightgown with their children watching. Her nightgown rode up to her chest and exposed part of her body. She felt utterly humiliated over her children seeing her in this state. He then started hitting, punching, slapping and kicking her.

Her brother's words of support and advice came flooding back to her. Maria became resolute in escaping this violent reality. She couldn't take it anymore. That night itself, she went again to the police and reported the abuse. She remembered her brother telling her about WAO and rang up WAO's office. A social worker took her to the Refuge Centre for shelter and Maria brought her 7 year old son with her.

The social worker then explained the procedures of attaining an Interim Protection Order against her husband. This prevents her husband from further abusing her.

At WAO, Maria told her story, little by little, to her social worker. From many sessions of counselling together, Maria has managed to slowly regain her self-confidence. Although it was difficult to relate her experiences at first, she feels stronger now, and is able to talk about the abuse. She no longer feels unwanted. Maria is relieved and glad that her social worker has talked her out of the problem instead of letting her drown in it. She is beginning to understand his behaviour and treatment towards her during the abuse, and this is helping her to heal from her confusion. Although she still feels the pain, Maria believes that she is starting to feel more secure and encouraged to rebuild her life.

Maria is currently looking for a job as a kindergarten teacher to be able to support herself and her children.

Even if it took 17 years to find the strength to break the silence, Maria has found a way out.

*name changed to protect her identity
**The Domestic Violence Act was implemented in 1996.

Jaclyn Kee
Communications Officer

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