Rape victim: I have constant nightmares
Teen jailed, caned for attempted rape. Victim still has flashbacks of incident
She was chatty and bright and had a positive outlook on life.
But all that changed overnight when Sarah, then 25, fell victim to an incident that stripped away her self-worth.
At about 3.20am on July 26 last year, a teen dragged her to a quiet spot in her neighbourhood and tried to rape her.
The then 17-year-old had felt the urge to rape someone after watching pornographic films online in his Choa Chu Kang home, some of which depicted rape scenes the court heard yesterday.
When Marcus Yow Kai Wen failed to rape Sarah, he performed other degrading sexual acts on her.
He was then still on probation for assaulting four women by approaching them from behind and throwing a plastic bag or sweater over their heads.
For attempted rape, Yow was yesterday sentenced to eight years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane. Three other charges of sexual offences were taken into consideration.
The case may have concluded, but Sarah's recovery has barely begun, said her boyfriend, Leonard, who is in his late 20s.
The couple's names have been changed to protect the victim's identity.
After the incident, Sarah became withdrawn, irritable and was prone to emotional outbursts - symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"I am still very affected by it and it makes me unhappy," she told The New Paper in an e-mail interview yesterday.
After the hearing, Leonard told TNP: "Everything just changed overnight."
When Sarah found out about Yow's sentencing yesterday, she broke down, said Leonard.
"She's recovering, but it's been slow. It takes a lot of effort," he added.
"Her general health is affected because once something like this affects you psychologically, your health deteriorates. She does not eat well and that leads to ailments."
Sarah, who still has nightmares, insomnia and flashbacks, told TNP: "It has been extremely difficult. I'm in poor health regularly."
Just two days ago, she was warded in hospital for stress-related issues, believed to be linked to the sentencing yesterday.
Leonard said: "Her work is affected badly. I'd say this incident turned her personal life upside down. It's very, very bad."
Left with psychological scars, Sarah is afraid of standing alone at lift landings and of male strangers who approach her.
Because she's terrified of walking the same path home, she has moved out of her family home - one of the "significant changes" she had to make to her lifestyle, she said.
At her new home, she is still plagued by insomnia.
"When I manage to fall asleep, I have nightmares and would jolt up from my sleep. I have constant nightmares of the incident," she said in her victim impact statement to the court.
The incident also took a toll on her relationships - a scenario that could happen when loved ones do not understand the symptoms of PTSD, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist.
As Sarah's boyfriend and only confidante, Leonard was naturally affected by what he saw.
"It is extremely stressful to be in my position, that's all I want to say," he said.
Their relationship of two years has also changed.
"There are highs and lows, but the lows seem to be very different from that of a typical relationship. You don't have to deal with something that's this unpleasant in a typical relationship.
"It's rather taxing on the relationship. A lot of quarrels, maybe? There have been a lot of misunderstandings.
"The things we have to deal with are just psychologically different."
Leonard was distressed listening to the prosecution run through the facts of the case. It was the first time he heard of the other degrading sexual acts Yow had inflicted on Sarah.
"It's tough for me, even though it didn't happen to me. It's very vivid," he said, adding that there are times when helplessness overwhelms him and that there are not many people he can turn to or who understand what he and Sarah are going through.
"I just hope for the best. My main goal is to just help her regain her footing and by doing so, it helps me regain my footing as well.
"Besides that, there's really not much I can do except to support her however I can, which is really crucial.
"The silver lining is that if I see her recover, that would show that my efforts have paid off."
By speaking to TNP, the couple hope to remind others not to take their personal safety for granted.
"I want to warn women never to let their guard down and never to take their personal safety for granted, even in a safe country like Singapore," said Sarah.
Age saves him from maximum sentence
Seven months into his probation for attacking women by covering their heads with a plastic bag or sweater, an 18-year-old tried to rape a woman in his neighbourhood.
Marcus Yow Kai Wen said he had felt the urge to rape someone after watching pornographic films online, some of which depicted rape scenes.
Yesterday, the lanky teenager, dressed in a denim hoodie in court, was given the mandatory minimum of eight years in jail and 12 strokes of the cane for attempted rape.
His actions earned a strong rebuke from Justice Choo Han Teck.
"There is obviously something very wrong with you because you have been committing this kind of offence since you were 16," said the judge.
"And if you do not do something about it and seek help during or after your imprisonment, I can only say that the next time you appear in this court, you'll be in lock-up for almost the rest of your adult life."
The court heard that Yow had approached a 25-year-old woman at about 3.20am on July 26 last year.
The then ITE College West student wore a cap and sunglasses to hide his identity and armed himself with a knife-shaped letter opener.
Pointing the 15cm-long letter opener at her neck, Yow dragged her to the void deck of a nearby block where he tried to rape her.
When he failed because she was wearing a tampon, he performed degrading sexual acts on her.
SENTENCED: Marcus Yow Kai Wen. PHOTO: TNP READER
Afraid that he would harm her with the letter opener, she did not resist until she saw some passers-by and shouted for help.
Yow fled, leaving behind the letter opener and a slipper. Two passers-by helped the victim back to her block.
She then called her boyfriend, who reported the attack to the police. She handed to the police the letter opener and the slipper.
Yow's family, who were in court yesterday, apologised to the victim and her family through defence counsel Amarick Gill.
"His family would like to place on court record... their profuse apologies to the victim and to the victim's family, and if the apology is not accepted, the parents understand, Sir. They have a daughter, too," he said.
Yow's mother broke down after sentencing, and had to be supported by family members.
For attempted rape, Yow could have been jailed up to 10 years and given up to 12 strokes of the cane.
In his sentencing submissions yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran asked for Yow to be sentenced to a jail term of a "higher end".
Reports from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) assessed Yow to have a high risk of sexual re-offending.
The MSF report noted that Yow's prolonged sexual arousal from rape pornography had motivated him to "perpetrate his own sexual rape in order to gain similar sexual gratification".
The IMH report found no evidence of a mental disorder in Yow, the prosecution pointed out.
Given Yow's "absolute defiance of the law", he "should not be treated with kid gloves", it added.
But Mr Gill argued for the minimum mandatory sentence, citing Yow's remorse and repercussions faced by his family.
Yow had stopped his studies at ITE after a notice calling him a "molester" and "rapist" was circulated.
Justice Choo said that ordinarily, he would have imposed the maximum sentence of 10 years and 12 strokes of the cane.
"However, the only thing that's in your favour in mitigation is your youth," he told Yow.
Be patient, supportive, empathetic with victims
It is important for loved ones to respond to sexual assault survivors in supportive and empathetic ways instead of blame, disbelief or judgment.
This is because victims would approach them first before going to the authorities, said Ms Jolene Tan, the programmes and senior communications manager of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).
"Creating a space where the victim feels confident to come forward to talk, providing a listening ear or offering company to make a report are all helpful in moving the victim along on the path to recovery," she said.
"To maintain a trusting relationship where victims feel safe, it is important for loved ones not to pressure victims into making a decision they are not ready for."
Sometimes, family ties may become strained because of a lack of understanding of the trauma suffered by sexual assault victims.
Victims such as Sarah sometimes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and may exhibit symptoms like irritability and withdrawal.
Psychiatrist Lim Boon Leng said: "In PTSD, the symptoms can be quite difficult to identify. Sometimes, family members get a little bit puzzled by the way the patient is behaving."
He added that the family has to be patient with the victim and not take everything she says to heart or judge her by her behaviour.
Dr Lim also suggested that family members seek professional advice to see how they can help the victim.
Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre
- 6779 0282 (Monday to Friday, 10am to midnight)
- 9781 4101 (WhatsApp chat, Monday to Friday, 10am to 7pm)
Samaritans of Singapore
- 1800-221-4444 (24 hours)
IMH's Mental Health Helpline
- 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin)
'I am unable to control my emotions'
"I also get upset easily and have sudden bursts of anger towards people. I am unable to control my emotions. I would feel suffocated frequently, and I am unable to control that."
"I have phobia walking the same path near my home. I dare not go back to my HDB flat. This led to me...
to live with my brother."
"After the incident, I felt that I had lost my self-worth and I do not see the value of my life any more."
"This case has caused a lot of tension in the family. My family members are no longer on talking terms with me because
they are not supportive towards me."
- Excerpts from victim impact statement
'She lost 4kg'
"She became withdrawn and was frequently tearful and irritable, slept poorly with awakenings due to palpitations and nightmares about knives, and lost about 4kg due to nausea and poor appetite."
"On Dec 7, 2015... she still experienced marked emotional symptoms and often woke up screaming and hyperventilating from nightmares related to her attack...
These responses support the diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)."
- Excerpts from report by Dr Chua Tze-Ern of KK Women's and Children's Hospital