Abuse victim’s sister tells TNP: We lost touch after Hari Raya last year
Woman shocked that abuse video showed her sister being slapped by niece
When she saw her sister during Hari Raya Aidilfitri last year, the latter seemed happy.
But after that joyous festive occasion, her relatives no longer heard from the 58-year-old woman who is at the centre of an elderly abuse controversy after a video of her being slapped, allegedly by her daughter, went viral.
The woman's youngest sister, who requested anonymity, told The New Paper last evening that she and her family visited her older sister at her flat on Lower Delta Road in July last year to celebrate Hari Raya.
In an exclusive interview, the 48-year-old mother of three adult children said: "She seemed fine and happy. But that was the last time I saw or spoke to her.
"After that, I tried calling her phone countless times but couldn't get through. It seemed that she had distanced herself from our family.
"I don't know why. My siblings also tried to contact her but they, too, couldn't reach her."
The sister said she has four brothers and four sisters. Her abused sister is the fifth child.
Heaving a sigh, the housewife said that she found out about her sister's plight only after watching the news on Tuesday night.
She said: "My sister had a stroke about three years ago and she can no longer walk steadily.
"When I watched the video, I noticed that the woman looked like my sister. I noticed that the woman also walked like her. But I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I wasn't sure.
"I had a very bad feeling about what I had seen, so I called my other siblings. They were unsure, too."
Later, while watching the news, the woman saw the note that her sister's 25-year-old daughter had purportedly written and pasted outside their flat.
She said: "It mentioned everyone's names and my heart sank. I was so shocked that I broke down and cried.
"How could my niece do this to her mother? How can she be so heartless? My sister is her mother."
She added that her sister has three children, the eldest a woman in her 40s from her first marriage. Her sister's first husband "died a long time ago".
With her current husband, she has a son and another daughter - the alleged abuser in the video.
"My niece was always jovial. I don't know how she could do something like this. None of us expected this to happen."
The housewife confirmed that her sister faced financial difficulties but refused to give details despite being asked about it many times.
"Her family used to live in a four-room flat in Teck Whye but because of the debts, they sold it about two years ago and downsized to the two-room Lower Delta flat.
"She later told me she had settled the debts and refused to tell me anything more."
When TNP asked her about her sister's husband, she was hesitant before replying: "I don't really want to talk about him."
Apart from her youngest sister, the abused woman's family also received other visitors during Hari Raya last year, her neighbours told TNP yesterday afternoon.
But nobody visited them during Hari Raya last week, apart from some debt collectors who have been knocking on their door regularly, said their immediate neighbour who wanted to be known only as Madam Asha, 63.
When TNP visited the flat yesterday, a letter from a loan company was stuck between the gate and the front door. It was addressed to the woman's husband.
Madam Asha's son, who wanted to be known only as Mr Singh, 39, said the husband had left home about four months ago.
Internet searches showed that the couple were married on Oct 3, 1980, and the flat is registered under their names.
Mr Singh also showed TNP a handwritten letter which the daughter had earlier given him.
The letter, written by the daughter in poor English, mentioned that they were in debt and also that she had beaten her mother.
It said: "(My mother) can't change. I'm angry with her so I whacked her with a broom stick and hammer at her mouth and face every day (sic)."
Mr Singh said the daughter had given him the letter to make amends after he was "wronged by the family" last year - after he lent the family a few thousand dollars, they accused him of assaulting one of the family members.
But investigations cleared him, he claimed.
The letter said: "Me, (my father and mother) got do lot of wrong and sin to Mr Singh. Last year, me, (my mother) and (my father) do bluff report and sell Mr Singh's name."
It also acknowledged that Mr Singh helped the family after the father left about four months ago.
When TNP was there, no one was in the flat.
The video of the slapping incident, which happened two weeks ago, was recorded by another neighbour, Mr Mohammad Juani, 25, who uploaded it on Facebook on Monday evening.
After the video went viral, the Ministry of Social and Family Development posted on Facebook that it was looking into the matter.
The police went to the flat that night and the abused woman was taken to hospital, accompanied by her daughter.
Police investigations are ongoing.
I was so shocked that I broke down and cried. How could my niece do this to her mother? How can she be so heartless? My sister is her mother.
- Younger sister of the woman allegedly abused by her husband and daughter
HELPLINES FOR CAREGIVERS
Touch Caregivers Support
Care Corner Project Start (Family Violence Specialist Centre)
Trans Safe Centre
Sage Counselling Centre
Caregiving Welfare Association
Elderly too ashamed to report abuse
About 200 cases of elderly abuse are reported each year, but there could be more victims suffering under the radar.
On Monday, a man uploaded a video showing his 58-year-old neighbour being slapped by her daughter.
If not for the video, the woman's suffering of at least five months could have continued unnoticed.
There could be many more like her out there, said Ms Adisti Jalani, a senior social worker with Pave, the leading agency dealing with family violence.
She spoke of a case where a 74-year-old woman who was living with her daughter was abused by her son-in-law for a few years.
He would verbally abuse her as well as hit and kick her. He also did not allow her to leave the flat, speak to other people or even spend her own money without his permission.
The elderly woman tried to seek help by telling her siblings, but they did not believe her as the son-in-law was always polite and respectful in their presence.
The family suspected that something was wrong only when the woman's grandchildren visited her and noticed that she had become frail and withdrawn and behaved differently.
Their suspicions were confirmed when the woman's son-in-law verbally abused her in front of them.
They moved her out, called the police and referred her case to Pave.
The son-in-law was put through counselling to help him better manage his relationships
"Thankfully, things worked out well in this case," said Ms Adisti.
Social work professionals said many elderly victims of domestic abuse tend to keep their troubles to themselves, making the abuse hard to detect.
O'Joy Care Services clinical director Teo Puay Leng said many of them feel ashamed to report their own family members.
"They tend to take it upon themselves. They think it's their own fault or that they are useless," she said, adding that out of every 10 cases her centre attends to, two would involve the elderly.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, clinical psychologist and senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said elderly victims could be afraid of their abusers hurting them even more, so they choose to suffer in silence.
Many of them also worry that they would have no other caregiver to turn to if they report their family members, said Ms Anita Ho, assistant director of Awwa Caregiver Service.
This is where neighbours, friends and other family members can play a key role.
Ms Teo said that those who notice something amiss with their elderly neighbour, friend or family member - be it physical injuries or a change in behaviour - should consult a nearby family service centre (FSC) for advice.
"The FSC is a good place to start. You need not make a police report straightaway. You can just walk into an FSC, speak to a staff member and share what you saw," she said.
The social work professionals said that the neighbour who shared his video of the 58-year-old woman did the right thing.
Dr Balhetchet said: "There needs to be more people like that who help others. Talk to your neighbours. Be sociable. Notice if one of them suddenly goes missing."
Ms Teo added: "There needs to be more awareness in the community, especially because the elderly are vulnerable."
- RONALD LOH
They tend to take it upon themselves. They think it's their own fault or that they are useless.
- O'Joy Care Services clinical director Teo Puay Leng