Alden Boon

‘He Slapped Me, Punched Me, Kicked Me and Spat at Me, but I Forgive Him.’ Sandra Aulia’s Powerful Account of Surviving Domestic Violence.



Trapped in a cycle himself

In 2010, the couple sought counselling at a faith-based centre. The sessions were unfruitful. ‘During our private sessions, I told the counsellor of all the accounts of his abuse. Yet my ex-husband said that the counsellor concluded that there’s nothing wrong with him or with our relationship. Domestic violence is not supposed to be tolerated.’ Having a way with words, her ex might have sugar-coated or plied the truth.

Two things happened that year that did exact change in Sandra’s ex: his parents went back to their home country with the intention of retiring, and he started attending alcohol recovery support groups. Finally, the man who was loved and held in high regards by their common friends was consistent with the man at home. ‘He began behaving well, and treated me with respect. We read a Christian book on the meaning of forgiveness, and we started to pray together again as a couple. We set up healthy boundaries and checked in with each other.’

But like the ephemerality of an adult glow worm’s life, this period of change was short. Six months in, his parents changed their mind and returned to Singapore to be with their children, who were filial and respectful of them. ‘Around this time, he began sneaking behind my back. He would come home drunk again.’ The incremental progress they had made in their relationship came undone.

In June 2009, Sandra’s former husband organised a birthday barbecue for her at their condominium’s facility. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion devolved into shouting matches between her in-laws, which Sandra did not comprehend as they spoke in their mother tongue. Their incipient anger they kept at bay, for they were in a public setting. When they retreated to their home, at the instruction of his father, Sandra’s ex told her to sequester herself along with her daughter in the room. From the slapping sounds to staccatos of yelps let out by her in-laws and the cries of her nephews and nieces, even behind closed doors it took little imagination to guess what was happening. Suddenly, the explanation for her ex’s abusive nature became clear. ‘The men in his family, from his father to his brother, beat up their wives.’ It was a learned behaviour; her ex was a product of his environment. ‘He could only act on what he had learnt, and give only what he had received.’

Domestic violence always happens in a private space, never in a public setting. For women who are in domestic violence situations, home’s never a safe place.

Inverted Comma Bottom

Yet growing up in an environment of violence does not give him an out. ‘He should know better. Whenever he drank, he lost self-control. He’s not strong enough to fight that impulse to drink. He allowed anger to dwell in him; he allowed it to take over his sound mind and control him.’

The day she left

25 September 2011 was the last time her abuser would ever lay hands on her again. On the eve of her daughter’s birthday, she asked her ex if he wanted to hold a celebration in school. He refused, giving a thin excuse that they should not be wasting money on strangers.  ‘All her friends had their birthday celebrations in school. I didn’t want her to feel left out or unloved. It wasn’t an elaborate affair and I’d already paid for the cake a fortnight ago. Not wanting to get into another argument with him, I went ahead with the celebration without informing him.’  Later that day, while they were at her sister-in-law’s place, the latter asked her ex if he knew about the cake his daughter had in school. That revelation sent him into a fit of fury. To him, this coverup was a betrayal of gargantuan proportions, and so he reacted as he deemed appropriate: once home, he hoicked and flung the floor mattress at Sandra. He cornered her and started attacking her.

It was then her daughter, only four years old, against all instilled terror, against all good sense, bravely put herself between them, stood up to the raging man and said: ‘Daddy, don’t hit. Hitting is wrong.’ Her favourite toys bore the brunt of his wrath. ‘My first instinct was to leave the house. Domestic violence always happens in a private space — I thought to leave the house and go somewhere public where his anger could not follow.’ As they tried to leave from the back door in the balcony of her ground-floor unit, Sandra’s ex-husband grabbed her daughter and yanked the latter from her arms. ‘I had to let go of her, because if I didn’t, she would have been injured. He then locked himself with her in the common room. That was the very moment I realised my staying in the relationship was endangering my daughter’s safety. It was only a matter of time she would get physically, not just mentally, hurt. I was the only person in the world who could protect her.’

Sandra called the police for the umpteen time. It was the same routine of de-escalation and taking down of statements. Again they told her that in the absence of a PPO, there was nothing they could do. As her ex-husband left the house, Sandra quickly packed her belongings. Her plan to leave was scuppered when her ex suddenly returned home, this time with his parents and sister in tow. They lobbed insults at her and issued threats. She stood there, as a lone prey against four menacing predators. ‘They vented their anger on me. His sister attempted to spit at me and even raised her hand as if to strike me, but ultimately stopped short at doing so.

That his family members could not separate his actions from the man itself is unsurprising to Sandra. ‘To them, he’s an angel, the jewel of the family. He is well educated and has an honest job working for a renowned company. It is important to be filial, but you don’t harm your wife, your own flesh and blood, just to please your family. He will never change, because his family enables his wrongdoing. He will never change, because he doesn’t think his actions are wrong.’

Whether it was by good fortune or by God’s intervention, Sandra’s ex had to be deployed overseas for an assignment a week after this incident. This was the exit she needed. She took four days to pack her belongings, her daughter being young was oblivious to what was happening. ‘On the last day, I sat her daughter down and said, “Daddy’s hitting is not right. I’m not going to live with that anymore. I’m leaving. Do you want to stay with daddy or come with mummy?” I treated as an adult, and I wanted her to have free will to make a choice. She replied: “I want to go with mummy.” And so we left.’

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.