Working Together to Tackle Family Violence

The family is the basic building block of our society. Most Singaporean families enjoy strong family ties, with 90% satisfied with their family life. A strong family unit is one that is loving, supportive and united.

Unfortunately, not all families enjoy stable relationships. Some are afflicted by family violence, which can have long-lasting and detrimental effects on the individual family members. Family violence is not restricted to any community or race. It occurs across the board. However, educational, ethnic and cultural factors may affect how people respond to it.

According to PAVE, among Indian families, the most common forms of family violence are spousal violence, child abuse and cases where adult children abuse their parents or vice versa. Victims are sometimes unwilling or unable to seek help. Some children may be too young to seek help; elderly may be physically or mentally unable to do so.

Women are especially hesitant to seek help, owing to a number of reasons:

Such victims tend to suffer in silence, fearing the shame that may arise when their relatives find out, or out of guilt that they had done something to deserve this violence. Their ordeal may not be obvious to others as victims usually conceal the pain and physical abuse.

However, keeping silent about family violence or domestic abuse is not the right thing to do.

First, if left unreported, the victims will continue to suffer. Family violence can be long-lasting, and negatively impact the victims throughout life.

Children are severely impacted by violence, both emotionally and cognitively. Research shows that children’s capacity to think or reason is affected by the trauma of witnessing violence, with some studies suggesting that exposure to spousal abuse can affect a child’s ability to process and use new information. Hence, continuous exposure to spousal violence not only affects children mentally but also academically, diminishing their lingual and mathematical skills.

Repetitive exposure to spousal violence can also result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children, which is sometimes not obvious to parents who are in constant conflict.

Second, not reporting the violence also means that the person who committed the violence is not helped. Often perpetrators who commit family violence do so because that is what they saw their parent(s) do when they were children. In other cases, they are venting their frustrations and anger on more vulnerable family members because they are unable to address or resolve the underlying issues which give rise to the anger and frustration. These people need help in order to change their behaviour. They need to understand that what they are doing is wrong, how much their actions are hurting their loved ones and the high price the family pays for the abuse. In some cases, a criminal penalty or sanction is necessary.

In order to break the cycle of family violence, a pro-active and enlightened approach is needed.

While the fear that bringing the matter to light is shameful or will result in punishment for the perpetrators, it is better to bring it to light, then work together as a family and as a community to address the problem. In the long run, addressing the problem head-on is better than keeping quiet and leaving it unresolved.

Help is readily available for those who require it.

We should work together to stop the problem of family violence, and encourage instead a strong healthy environment of love and respect in families.


This is an excerpt from a monthly column where pertinent themes and concerns relating to the Indian community are discussed by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Law, Second Minister for Finance and Second Minister for Education and President, SINDA.