Dear Thelma,

I am an engineer at a construction site. I met X seven months ago, and was in a relationship with him for five months.

It was a very unhealthy relationship. X did not show his true colours in the beginning. He was very charming initially.

Once he won my heart, he began to exert increasing control over me. He did not want me to talk to the guys in my construction site. He stopped me from going out with friends. He hated my childhood friends because I am close to them.

He did not allow me to pursue a Masters degree when I expressed interest in doing so.

He tried to control the type of clothes I wore. He stopped me from going to the gym. I was stupid to give in to all his demands because I loved him.

He abused me verbally and hit me in front of the construction workers. I was so badly hit on one occasion that I had to go to the hospital for stitches.

My family did not know about the abuse that I was subjected to. I hid it from them.

The last straw came when he hit my face and it was badly swollen. After that, I decided to break up with him. When I told him I was leaving him, he became aggressive and embarrassed me in front of the workers.

When I could not take it anymore, I told my siblings about it. They dragged me to the police station to make a police report.

When X came to know of this, he spiked my drink while I was at work. Until today, I cannot remember what happened after I took the spiked drink. My colleagues thought I was on drugs because I was slumped on my table in a most unlady-like manner.

X pressured me to sleep with him. He said he would only let me go if I slept with him. I reluctantly agreed. He brought me to a hotel. I teared up and couldn’t bring myself to do it. He tried to force himself on me, and I fought him off. I ran to my car and sped off. I felt so ashamed of myself. I was disgusted with myself too.

X cut his wrist in the office, and told his colleagues that I had cheated on him.

There was so much gossip behind my back in the office. I am the only girl in the construction site, and I felt so embarrassed.

X tried to blackmail me. He said he would commit suicide if I left him. He said if he died, it was all my fault.

I am so depressed now. I am not sure what to do anymore. I don’t feel any more love for X. I don’t want to be with him. How do I get out of this situation? Please help me. – Tricked And Trapped

Dear Tricked And Trapped

Firstly, you have nothing to be ashamed of. None of this is any of your fault. You have nothing to be blamed for.

This man’s behaviour is that of a typical abuser. Abusers are very nice to start with, and they are extremely charming. Nothing you did or did not do made him become like this. He was already like this, and is very likely to remain like this unless he realises he needs to change.

Many cases of abuse begin exactly like yours. The male partner starts to control the movements of the female partner. It doesn’t seem harmful because the controlling behaviour is couched in romantic overtones.

The female thinks that it is because the male partner loves her so much that he wants her to stop speaking to others. It is actually part of a systematic way of controlling the female partner. First, it is who she should and should not speak with. Then, it is where she is allowed to go, what she can wear, what she should eat.

Eventually, the abuser begins to cut her off from everyone she knows – regardless of gender. Even family members are not spared.

He wants to mould you into something that he can have absolute control over. He limits your potential by not allowing you to pursue your Masters degree because he wants to make sure you are not better than him. Besides, he does not want you to meet other men.

You see, all this has little to do with you. It has all to do with him and his ego. It is his way of exerting power and control over you.

Even now, when you want to leave him, he is trying to control you. His threats of suicide are just that – threats. He knows that if he makes you feel guilty and responsible, you will do anything for him. Forcing you to have sexual relations with him is also that. His intention was to rape you to shame you. He would have used that incident to control you and make you comply with his demands.

The best thing that you did was to fight him and flee. You must remember that you have been fighting. You are not a victim.

It is surprising that he hit you in front of others and no one stepped in to stop him. They will not even accept his behaviour as abusive. Hence, it is not surprising that your colleagues are blaming you. They are a part of the abuse. When someone does not stand up to violence, they are complicit in it. They are also guilty of perpetuating violence.

It is also shocking that the doctor who stitched you up, did not ask you what happened and made a referral for you to get help. Doctors play a very important part in things like this and it is a sad situation when they decide that matters like these are “personal”. Doctors can help. They have a duty to do so. They just have to learn the right questions to ask, and to find out what can be done in situations of abuse like this.

Do not expect your employer and colleagues to change the way they behave. It is likely that X has also worked his charm on them. Men like him are really good at making themselves look like the victim. His behaviour in the workplace is also a way to shame you into accepting his control.

He will not stop or change. Your colleagues are not going to change, either. You have no choice but to leave this situation immediately. Your best support at this point are your family members. They believe you. They are on your side. They will help you. You do not have to be ashamed of telling them the truth and asking them for help.

Another source of help will be the women’s rights organisations. You may need shelter – to temporarily be in a place that this man does not know. The women’s organisations can help you with that. They can also help with any legal processes.

You can lodge police reports about the violence that X had inflicted on you. You can also charge him with attempted rape. What happened that day was exactly that – you did not consent out of free will. You were forced to. Remember that. This is not your fault.

Men like him do not give up easily. Because abuse is about power and control, many abusers continue their abusive behaviours even after the relationship has ended. Counselling from the women’s groups can help you develop coping strategies so that you can look after yourself.

As for work, you may have to find a new employer. Firstly, you do not want to work in a place that is helping to protect an abuser. Secondly, the workplace is not safe for you anymore.

This may not be a bad thing. It may be the perfect opportunity for you to pursue further studies. Even if doors close, there are windows that are open.

You are a brave, young woman. You can find the courage and energy to fight this. You can do this. You just need to believe in yourself and not be ashamed. You also have to see his behaviour for what it is – abusive and controlling. You do not need that in your life. You do not need him. You are intelligent and capable. He is afraid of that. Remember that.

Make the first move by calling a women’s helpline. You can contact Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) at 03-7956 3488 or the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) at 03-7877 0224. – Thelma

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