Heart of the Matter: How to get more people to blow the whistle on family violence?

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SINGAPORE: If someone is losing sleep over a rowdy party next door, he or she may have no qualms about calling the police, says Dr Joseph Leong, senior consultant psychiatrist from Promises Healthcare.

But most people overhearing a family fight behind closed doors would hesitate to alert the authorities.

A key driver of this difference in behaviour is fear.

Fear of getting the assessment wrong, fear of “destroying” a family or fear of becoming embroiled in a potential police case.

In Singapore, more cases of family violence are being reported, but few are because bystanders called the authorities. Among child abuse cases investigated by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) Child Protective Service, only 1.5 per cent were reported by the public.

Yet, neighbours who hear something and speak out can make a huge difference, say Marcus Lim, head of TOUCH Family Support and Mohamed Fareez, deputy director (family & community support) at AMKFSC Community Services. Both men were guests on the Heart of the Matter podcast and deal with family violence cases as part of their work.

When does an ordinary argument become a sign of family violence? If bystanders do decide to intervene, what should they do?

Here are some highlights of their conversation:


Fareez: “I lived in a rental flat when I was young and I had neighbours where there was violence happening as well."

The perception has always been the moment your door is closed, anything personal is confined within the personal space.

Lim: “People are worried, naturally, about being a busybody. It might also be that they also do not know what to do in the face of family violence. It is quite a daunting issue. They might be questioning whether this issue warrants police interven...

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