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July 25, 2015

Fighting Elder Abuse: More eyes and ears needed to report cases to centres (SINGAPORE)

By

Radha Basu

Senior Correspondent
Straits Times

For months, neighbours heard screams from a thin, frail woman who looks much older than her 58 years. Some said they saw her beaten by her daughter or husband.
But until Mohamed Juani - a neighbour - secretly filmed and uploaded a video of one such abuse incident on Facebook on Monday evening, no one really spoke up. And, crucially, no one reported the matter to the authorities.
Once the video went viral, some neighbours told reporters they saw her being slapped and kicked. Others saw her hair being pulled. Yet others saw her being berated and beaten with brooms.
The shroud of silence that surrounds abuse cases may shock some, but comes as no surprise to those at the front lines of the battle against elder abuse.
Trans Safe Centre, Pave and Care Corner Project Start provide specialised community-based support and services for people affected by family violence. This includes older folk who are scolded, beaten, defrauded or denied access to others by people they love, most frequently their own flesh and blood. 
While there are some family, friends and neighbours who do speak out, social workers in all three agencies have seen cases where others knew of the abuse but did nothing to help.
Pave, for instance, helped a 74-year-old woman who was often kicked, slapped and hit on the head by her son-in-law. She would shout for help. Once, when he was hitting her and she screamed for help through the kitchen window, a small crowd had gathered downstairs to gape. But no one offered to help or report the matter. Eventually, a visiting grandson was shocked by her condition and reported the matter to the authorities. 
Similarly, in other cases reported to the Trans Safe Centre and Project Start by family members or police, neighbours acknowledged seeing the violence, but did nothing about it. Some do not intervene for fear of being hurt or harassed by the perpetrator who, after all, lives just a door or two away. They may fear making the violence worse for the victim. Others feel being a "kaypoh" - or nosy - neighbour is too "paiseh" (embarrassing). 
Most of all, social workers say, many bystanders feel outsiders should not interfere in domestic disputes - even when violence is invoved. 
It is unclear exactly how many people harbour such views today, but a 2007 study of more than 1,000 people by what was then the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports showed that half believed family violence was a private matter, down from nearly six in 10 in 2003.
But this is a totally wrong view.
The law does not stop at the threshold to private homes. If it did, killings at home won’t be murder, and criminals can flee the law simply by returning home to shut the door. 
Neighbours and bystanders need to know that domestic violence is a crime, the same way violence to a co-worker in the office, or a stranger on the street, is a crime.
Abridged
SOURCE:    Straits Times

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