"My ex strangled me when I was pregnant!”

Elaine Lai’s two-year marriage came to an end when her ex-husband abused her – both physically and emotionally.

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“My ex-husband and father were sharing a few beers, while my mum, niece and I were enjoying the barbecue at East Coast Park. Everyone was in good spirits until I asked my ex to help clear the place up.

“He began questioning me as to why he should be doing all the work. Thinking it was a misunderstanding, I calmly explained that he was the only one capable of cleaning — my parents were old, my niece was young (8 years old), while I was almost eight months’ pregnant. He went on a rant.

“During the ride home, he continued ranting, and my attempts to calm him down were futile. He rashly made a turn while parking and scratched the car... I then stormed into the house.

“We started arguing as soon as he entered. As the argument escalated, he pushed me towards the wall, then tried to strangle me. I struggled for five minutes to break free from his grip; which caused strangulation marks on my neck. I felt vulnerable at that moment, fearful and petrified for me and my unborn baby’s safety all at once.

“When he finally loosened his grip and left the house, I felt dazed. I immediately called the police as well as my parents, who arrived shortly after. The police checked and advised me on safety measures, but left soon after as I didn’t want to take any action against my husband.

“Hours later, he returned home, but we barely spoke for days after the incident. Nonetheless, for the sake of my daughter, we decided to put the incident behind us. In June 2005, we welcomed our first daughter.

Life went back to normal after her birth. In December that year, we agreed to move to Japan, so that we could obtain Japanese citizenship (my ex was Japanese) for my daughter. When he found a job there, we were excited about starting a new life.

“Unfortunately, things were far from being a fairy tale. A second incident occurred in December 2006. I was reprimanding my daughter and threatened to hit her with a hanger. My ex — under the influence of alcohol — saw this and was greatly displeased. He snatched the hanger from my hand and pushed me out of the house.

“It was the dead of winter, as I had no woollens on apart from my night clothes, I begged him to let me in as I had no place to go. My daughter was bawling for me at the front door, but he refused to let me in.

“Desperately trying to get to her, I knocked on our neighbour’s door and asked him to call the police. Because of the language barrier, he didn’t understand my pleas. My ex then came out and yelled to our neighbour, ‘Ignore her, she’s stupid!’

“I took this opportunity to run into the house and hug my crying daughter. Although he tried to start a conversation, I was unwilling to talk to him and just continued to hug my daughter. We didn’t speak for days, though we eventually moved past the incident. Five months later, I conceived my second daughter.

“The final straw came when my parents and niece visited us in Japan. Since my niece hadn’t eaten much, when my ex had taken us out for dinner, she felt hungry when we came home. I was heading to the kitchen to make something for her when he stormed into our bedroom.

“I followed him to ask him why he was upset — he told me that he was angry because she hadn’t eaten when she’d had the chance. I tried telling him that she was a growing child, but he refused to accept my explanation. I could not accept his behaviour, so I slept in the living room.

“I knew then that I had reached the limits of my endurance with him. I packed my bags the next morning. Soon after, he approached me for a divorce. We wasted no time in signing the papers and I left for Singapore that same day.

“Though the memory of my abuse has haunted me for years, I’ve moved on. I picked up Krav Maga — a self-defence technique taught in the Singapore military force — as I’m determined to never be a victim again.

“Now I run my own self-defence class — Women Protection SG, held in Team SC gym — to help women like myself. Even my kids are learning self-defence techniques, so they’re equipped with skills to protect themselves, and will never have to endure what I had to go through.”

Elaine Lai lives in Choa Chu Kang with her two daughters and still teaches self defence.

Photo: ING Images