Breaking the silence: A foreign domestic worker and rape survivor’s story of healing
Christine Leow // July 14, 2020, 7:05 pm
Raped by her two cousins and an uncle as a child, Theresa (not her real name) harboured anger, fear and hurt for years before receiving psychological and spiritual healing. Photo courtesy of Theresa.
Growing up in Luzon, Philippines, Theresa (not her real name), 32, remembers the wide, open fields of her hometown. She lived in a village of about 20 families, all farmers.
“I was a playful child and very, very talkative,” she said with a smile.
The second in a family of eight children – “my mother had one child every year” – Theresa was left largely on her own because her mother was simply too busy.
Her family, like most in the village, was poor, eking out a living growing rice and corn.
“We couldn’t afford toys,” she said. “We played with the mud in our yard, shaping it into pots so we could pretend to cook.
“We didn’t have dolls. Instead, we drew pictures of girls on pieces of paper or discarded cardboard and carried them around, pretending they were dolls.”
Too young to understand
One day at her uncle’s house, “my cousins called me and asked me to play with them”, said Theresa.
Alone with her two older cousins, then 16 and 17, they took turns to rape her. She was five.
“I was watching a movie and there was a rape scene. It was then that I realised rape isn’t normal.”
“I didn’t cry. I wasn’t scared,” she recalled. “I didn’t understand.”
She went home and told no one what had happened. The next year, her mother’s cousin, who was 16 at the time, lured her into an empty field and raped her.
“We were playing near my house when he told me to go to the fields where no one could see us. I didn’t scream. I thought it was normal.”
It was only when she was 11 that she realised she had been abused.
“I was watching a movie and there was a rape scene. It was then that I realised rape isn’t normal.”
Silence that hurt
Still, Theresa said nothing. But the silence ate into her.
There was anger that “those I trusted to defend me would be the ones who destroyed my life”. There was self-loathing, too.
“I was afraid that if people found out I had been raped, they would blame me and judge me. I didn’t think anyone could love me if they knew.”
Theresa was insecure and afraid all the time. She would “have chest pains and hyperventilate” whenever she heard stories of rape.
“I was afraid that if he found out, he would leave me.”
Over time, convinced that she would be alone the rest of her life and trapped in bitter silence, depression set in.
Even when her little sister was raped at the age of 13 by her father’s cousin several years later, Theresa remained silent.
“My sister told one of her friends and the friend told my mum. When my mum confronted my sister, she said: ‘Yes.’
“My family made a police report and the cousin who was in his 30s ran away. Till today, he’s in hiding.”
By then Theresa was 19, married and pregnant with her first child.
“I couldn’t tell anyone about my past – not my mum and certainly not my husband. I was afraid that if he found out, he would leave me.”
Heart of fear
In fact, fear coloured much of her marriage. She believes it was her fear of being unloved that made her fall for the boy next door and marry him when she was only 18.
“I was always longing for love, longing for acceptance. He was thoughtful and he made me feel like he loved me for who I was even though I was poor.”
“My child was trembling and I could see the fear in his eyes.”
The marriage was good at first. But there was always an underlying insecurity because she could not shake the fear that she was not attractive enough for her husband. There were also money woes that soon led to quarrels and then to domestic violence.
“He was always drunk. We would fight about money. When he hit me, I would fight back, but he’s stronger, so I would just end up crying.”
Things came to a head one day when husband and wife were fighting and their older child, a son then aged six, saw them.
“He shouted at us, ‘Please stop! Please don’t fight!’ He was trembling and I could see the fear in his eyes.”
In search of more
That incident was a wake-up call. Theresa decided to get a job, her first. She had gotten married right out of high school, going from student straight to homemaker.
“I kept crying and saying that I wanted to go home.”
“I thought I could prove that I was of worth if I could earn money because back then I thought I was useless.”
Her aunt helped her secure a job as a domestic foreign worker in Singapore. Theresa was 26 then. But life abroad was not what she imagined.
“I was very homesick in the first six months,” shared Theresa. “I kept crying and saying that I wanted to go home.”
To help her adapt, her employers, who were Christians, brought her a local church and introduced her to the Filipino community there. It was the pastor of the congregation, Pastor Jingle Cortes, who shared about the Christian faith with her.
It was not long before the allure of city life got the better of her.
“She told me that I wasn’t in Singapore by chance, that there was a purpose. Then, she talked to me about Christ.”
A lapsed Catholic whose parents later joined a church in Luzon that did not believe that Jesus is God, Theresa found Christianity compelling. But it was not long before the allure of city life got the better of her.
“After a while, I got bored in church. I followed my cousin to explore Singapore on my day off instead. There was so much to enjoy, I didn’t want to go back to church.”
But, once again, the search for more would beckon.
Nowhere to run but to God
It was with her second employer that the past she so wanted to forget returned. Within three days of being employed in the household, she was molested.
“My Sir would keep coming near me. Sometimes, he would use his shoulder to brush my breasts.
“When he was home, he would wear a sarong and sit in such a way that his privates were exposed when I brought him his drink. Then, instead of taking the cup from me, he would hold my hand.”
In her helplessness, she found hope in prayer and reading the Bible.
At night, Theresa was not allowed to close the door to her room. Her employer would try to sneak in.
“Every night, I just prayed, ‘Lord please protect me, please keep me safe’.”
And God did. Her employer never went into her room at night though he continued to stalk her in the day.
Between the long hours – “I woke at five in the morning and could only go to bed at midnight” – and the stress of avoiding her abuser, she lost nearly 15kg in seven months.
But the ordeal also brought her closer to God. In her helplessness, she found hope in prayer and reading the Bible. Soon, it became a nightly habit.
“I had nowhere to run, so I ran to God and that helped me deepen my relationship with him.”
Yet the spectre of fear continued to haunt her.
“If I made a police report, I would be sent to a shelter and wouldn’t be able to work.”
When she eventually plucked up the courage to run to her agent for help, she refused to make a police report against her employer.
Part of her reticence was out of loyalty to her employer’s wife. Despite the excessive amount of work, “my Madam was good to me”.
The other part was the result of fear. Again. “If I made a police report, I would be sent to a shelter and wouldn’t be able to work until my case was resolved.
“I’ve seen it happen to my friends. Some could not work for up to a year. If I didn’t work, I wouldn’t be able to send money home.”
Silence, once more, held her captive.
Then, a friend encouraged her to sign up for Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church’s (BBTC) Restoring the Foundation (RTF) psychological and spiritual healing ministry.
She knew it would require her to delve into a past she would rather forget. Said Theresa: “I prayed about it for many months.”
“I felt such a lightness and peace, as if a boulder had been lifted from me.”
Even when she eventually went, she still found herself unable to share her hurts.
“I was hesitant. But half-way through, I found that I was able to talk about things and tell my burdens to someone else.”
Theresa confided to the two people who were walking her though the healing process.
“I told them everything and I was crying and crying. One of them said to me, ‘The Holy Spirit heals you.’
“When it was over, I felt such a lightness and peace, as if a boulder had been lifted from me. It was like I had held on to my past till I was bursting. When I told them and they prayed for me, it was such a release.”
Free at last
Breaking her silence and talking to her trusted confidantes was a turning point for Theresa. She received a release and healing that was like a weight off her shoulders. At that point, she was able to take the next step.
“I believe that whatever bad things have happened in the past, I can learn something from them. I learnt to forgive those who had hurt me.
“As the Bible says, not seven times but 77 times (Mathew 18:21-22). I have also made mistakes and hurt people like my husband.
“If God can forgive me and love me, I felt I could forgive as well.”
“When you see someone with a burden in their heart, you know they are looking for someone to confide in.”
A week after her RTF experience, her cousins whom she had not had contact with for years contacted her via Facebook.
“I replied. There was no anger.”
These days, Theresa is a regular in church, serving as a singer for its Filipino Service and mentoring others through a daily Bible reading programme.
She is journeying with others as well, just as she has been journeyed with.
“I am mentoring a friend in the condominium I live at. When you see someone with a burden in their heart, you know they are looking for someone to confide in”.
Her next step is to work up the courage to break her silence with her husband and family.
“They still don’t know about the rape.”
Restoring the Foundation
If you or someone you know would like to find out more about the Restoring the Foundation healing ministry, you can contact them here.
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