SINGAPORE – The trauma of dealing with sexual abuse left Ms Elizabeth Teo depressed and suicidal for years after the abuse ended.
Ms Teo, 35, struggled for years to come to terms with the abuse that started when she was 19, which continued for three years.
Her suffering seemed to intensify after the abuse stopped and also affected her career as a teacher. She said: “I did my best to pretend it never happened and tried to move on with my life. I immersed myself in work to forget what had happened to me.”
Ms Teo suffered flashbacks and breakdowns for years, losing her appetite and even self-harming.
“I attempted suicide three times because I just wanted the pain to end,” she said.
“Once, I was arrested for my suicide attempt. As I lay handcuffed to the hospital bed, I started crying because here I was in chains while my abuser was out there somewhere scot-free.”
Interactions with a priest and therapist who asked Ms Teo to consider whether her actions had invited the abuse led her further down the path of self-blame.
“The turning point in my healing came in a change of therapist. My new psychiatrist spent an entire year to convince me that the abuse was not my fault,” she said.
“It took about 11/2 years of intensive therapy, but I got better. It took me 15 years to have the courage to make a police report about the abuse.”
While the case was eventually dropped, Ms Teo’s experience spurred her to establish safespaces.sg to offer hypnotherapy to others like her.
She is also a freelance facilitator, creating safe spaces in her workshops for participants to tell their stories and find healing.
This month, Ms Teo joined local non-profit The Whitehatters and crisis shelter Casa Raudha to kick-off a 12-month campaign, called A Holding Space, that offers resources like free online counselling sessions and pro bono legal consultations to sexual abuse survivors seeking help.
Monthly support group sessions will be held over the next year, engaging sexual abuse survivors in 90-minute online sessions which are open to women aged 21 and above and limited to 10 people at a time.
The Whitehatters founder Shahrany Hassan said the campaign was a response to anecdotes from peers who had opened up about their sexual abuse.
“Several were young when it happened and are only coming to terms with it now in adulthood. Others were abused as adults by individuals in positions of power and influence.
“Knowing that, we had to do something. We believe that sometimes all it takes to make things better is a little support.”
For Ms Teo, the initiative is a way to reach out and empower other survivors who may be able to relate to the challenges and trauma she has dealt with.
More information on monthly support group sessions is available here.
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