Three in 10 Singaporeans claim that they or people close to them have experienced domestic abuse, according to a new survey.

Stressing that domestic abuse was not limited to women, the study noted that one in four men here are victims of domestic abuse.

The survey was by Ipsos, a global market agency, in collaboration with United Women Singapore, a non-profit organisation for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Ipsos said the latest study, which was released yesterday, follows an increase in domestic abuse cases since 2016. It also cited figures by women’s advocacy group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) that showed its women’s helpline got a daily average of two calls last year.

However, the study, which polled 300 Singaporeans aged 18 to 64, also found that 40 per cent of respondents remain apathetic towards domestic abuse, saying it is not prevalent.

Additionally, one in five believes that domestic abuse should not be reported by others, as it is more important to preserve the sanctity of marriage.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development defines family abuse as a range of controlling behaviour that takes a physical, sexual and/or psychological nature, and typically involves fear, harm, intimidation and emotional deprivation.

It may include verbal abuse, threats, harassment, intimidation and controlling behaviour.

Family abuse can happen at any level of close interpersonal relationships, including those between spouses, partners, parents, children and siblings.

The study revealed a disconnect between this definition and what the respondents perceive domestic abuse to be.

They are more likely to define an act as abuse if it left physical scars, with 84 per cent saying hitting a spouse and leaving a physical wound constitutes domestic abuse. But this drops to 75 per cent if hitting a spouse does not leave a physical wound, the study showed.

About seven in 10 consider forcing a spouse to engage in sexual intercourse against their will, verbal threats and restraining or holding them against their will as abuse.

But behaviours that could be warning signs of further aggression are more likely to go unnoticed, with views divided on the less visible aspects of abuse, according to the study.

LOWER SELF-ESTEEM

About half the respondents do not consider any action that causes a spouse to have lower self-esteem, restricting a spouse’s access to healthcare or financial freedom as abuse.

Ms Elodie Causier, director at Ipsos in Singapore, said the victims’ finances are either controlled by the abuser, or are tied down to servicing home loans and other commitments that often involve the children.

“The decision to leave the marriage is often complex when there are other dependants,” she added.

United Women Singapore president Georgette Tan said: “Much more needs to be done to protect the victims and shed light on the situation and especially what constitutes domestic abuse.”

The study showed that most Singaporeans acknowledge that tackling domestic abuse is a shared responsibility, with 82 per cent agreeing it is their responsibility to act if they encounter cases of domestic abuse, with many saying that more awareness is needed.

But 41 per cent were unclear on what to do if they or people close to them are abused.

Ms Causier said: “It is encouraging that many Singaporeans are willing to do something if they encounter cases of domestic abuse, but more needs to be done to raise social awareness and more guidance given on where help can be found.”

Ms Anisha Joseph, head of care services at Aware, told The New Paper: “Domestic violence isn’t just a crime and social welfare concern – we should also remember that it leaves many survivors with long-term negative health problems, making it a public health issue.

“It is also a workplace issue that impacts productivity. But, more importantly, we believe that it is a preventable issue.

“Hopefully, more research like this survey can lead to a new era with various ministries, workplaces, neighbourhood communities and bystanders coming together to change ignorance to concern and action.”