They met while he was on a business trip in China. After a whirlwind courtship, Mary (not her real name) married her Singaporean boyfriend and started her new life here. Soon after she gave birth, however, he lost his job and turned abusive.
He hit her several times a month, ranted at her over minor issues and even threatened to send her back to China.
It was only when her friends spotted bruises on her that Mary was taken to the police and got help from social workers.
Cases involving immigrants like Mary who seek help because of spousal violence have become more common, according to help organisation, Promoting Alternatives to Violence (Pave).
Of the nearly 300 spousal violence in cases it handled in Singapore last year, one in five involved those who were not born here – almost double the figure in 2008.
Other social workers MediaCorp spoke to say they have seen a similar trend. It could get worse. Of the 85 new cases involving immigrants in abusive marriages Pave handled over the last two years, only 20 per cent had sought help on their own. The rest were referred to Pave by the police, the hospitals or the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.
Usually, this means “the violence has intensified to an extent that the police are involved”, said Ms Seah Kheng Yeow, Pave’s head of family development.
This is in stark contrast to the rising numbers Pave has seen in recent years involving Singaporean victims who have voluntarily sought help because of domestic violence.
With more marriages between citizens and non-citizens, making up almost 41 per cent of all marriages last year, Ms Seah said Pave wants to reach out more to immigrants.
“We are exploring ideas such as giving talks at block parties organised for new citizens or providing brochures on where to seek help for domestic violence,” said Ms Seah.
Dr Sudha Nair, deputy head of the Department of Social Work at the National University of Singapore, agrees that public education is crucial in tackling spousal violence.
Family therapist Benny Bong, however, advised that putting a stop to spousal violence is not the same as breaking up a marriage. He said some victims think that, by speaking out, it will cause even more problems. But with counselling, it may actually save the relationship.