A whirlwind romance led Lily*, from Singapore, to move in with her boyfriend in Europe. But when the relationship turned abusive, she found herself alone, continents away from home. This is her account of how she escaped.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

A whirlwind romance led Lily*, from Singapore, to move in with her boyfriend in Europe. But when the relationship turned abusive, she found herself alone, continents away from home. This is her account of how she escaped.





It has taken me six years to work up the courage to pen this. It may cathartically dredge up a hurricane of emotions, or I could feel nothing at all. I’m a single mum. But I’d like to think my story is a little less ordinary than that alone. Harry* and I met seven years ago, when I was working in Europe.

A good friend of mine had split up with her partner and wanted a night out. While at a festival, we emptied two bottles of rose, and chatted up Harry and his friend in a bid to solicit their tipple. We ended up inebriated that evening. It was love at first sight with Harry. The attraction was seismic.

After just two months, we moved in together. We never married but were head over heels in love, spending every minute together. We lived near picturesque and twee canals and often strolled along or scooter-zipped around the waterways, taking in the city life. Our worlds were vastly different, but we ensured they collided.

I am a creative at heart and by profession, so we drank up arts and culture at museums. Harry was an ex-professional racer and a champion-turned-coach in his home country in Europe. Racy and fascinating, his was a universe I’d never known. I come from a humble HDB-dwelling background and had never known a professional sportsman, let alone someone like Harry, who moved in circles that included F1 racers.

I was star-struck, having chanced upon internationally renowned faces on the tracks. We enjoyed allexpenses- paid trips and invitations to racing-related events. I owned my own business and became a road warrior, working in our hotels. I was entirely consumed by his world. Harry was well known for his fearsome temper on the tarmac.

He would openly blow his top at his protege for mistakes made on and off the track. I shrugged it off initially, thinking it was just his work persona. Shortly after, I became pregnant.

On a Collision Course Three months into my pregnancy, the seams of our relationship came undone. We fought endlessly over his irresponsible behaviour. He would drink, disappear for days, and not tell me where he’d gone. If he came home, he would be drunk and sprawled out on the sofa. Once, he even took a piss from the window of our attic onto the streets.

Then there was his fiery temper. He picked on everything I did. On one occasion, he blew his top when I didn’t show up at the tracks as I was working at our hotel. He said I had embarrassed him in front of the crew. On our racing road trips, I was subjected to silent treatment.

I tagged along with him for dinners with the other racers, only to be ignored. He partied with the crew members till dawn, while I stayed in the hotel. I lived in trepidation, never knowing when he was going to unleash his terrible tantrums on me. Most of the other teams and racers were unaware of his behaviour behind closed doors, which included verbal abuse.

One morning, when I was six months pregnant, he kicked me in the stomach just for sleeping on the sofa. I never sustained grievous injuries – there were no broken bones or bruises, but the emotional turmoil and stress left me scarred and even resulted in me haemorrhaging during my pregnancy.

I had to be hospitalised several times – not that he cared. I confided in a few friends, who advised me to leave. But I clung on in the belief that my baby needed a dad. It wasn’t until my best friend asked what kind of father I wanted for my child that I made up my mind to return to Singapore. When I told Harry I was leaving him, he begged for another chance and promised to change. I relented, but a few days before I delivered, he punched me in the face during a fight.

Plotting an Escape

After I gave birth, Harry turned over a new leaf, but not for long. Post-partum hormonal changes meant I had less patience with him, and so our fights continued. On one occasion, he chased our baby and me out into the wintry cold. I remember ambling through the streets with little Brendan* strapped to me under my winter coat. That was when I decided that I had had enough.

I started on my exit strategy. I called a legal hotline and asked a plethora of questions to ensure I could exit the country legally with Brendan. I also sought protection at a centre offering refuge and counselling for women subjected to domestic abuse and violence. I even contacted the police, who advised me to leave for Singapore earlier.

Then I told Harry I was leaving. Our fights got worse, so much so that his parents intervened and moved Harry back to their place. I sought police protection against him, but that didn’t stop him from coming back one day to smash up the furniture in the house. He even threatened to kill me.

Fearing for our safety, I hurriedly packed my belongings and sought refuge with close friends so Harry couldn’t track us down. Before leaving, I saw a psychologist to ensure it was the right decision. She affirmed it, adding that I should keep Brendan away from his father and not talk to him about the past until he was an adult as there was a chance he would follow in his father’s footsteps.

Home Free As soon as I secured Brendan’s Singapore passport which I had applied for months ago, we headed home. He was just seven months old. Since leaving Harry, I have never contacted him. He sent us an online message once saying that he misses us, but apart from that, I have not heard from him in almost six years.

Before leaving, I had given him the contacts of my counsellor and psychologist so he could talk about continuing his relationship with his son. Not surprisingly, the counsellor didn’t make much headway with him. Brendan is now six. He is beautiful, precocious and very protective of me. I’ve never spoken ill of his father, but Brendan seems to know I’ve suffered.

While life as a single mum has been tough, we’re doing great. For too long, I tried to justify the abuse for my son’s sake until I realised the best thing to do was to walk away. Looking back, I don’t know how I did what I did. But I suppose, in the words of my psychologist, I am a survivor.

*Names have been changed to protect Lily and her son.


Transnational relationships are increasingly common for Singaporeans. According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, 7.9 per cent of marriages registered in Singapore in 2009 involved a Singaporean and a nonfiresident. It stated that such unions are more prone to divorce than those between residents.

If you are living overseas with a foreign spouse and want out, “consult lawyers in the country you presently reside in and the country you wish to move back to”, advises Tan Siew Kim, a senior family lawyer and consultant with Kalco Law. This is particularly important if you have children. Not clarifying the laws on both sides could complicate the process of uncoupling, especially if you plan to bring a child back to Singapore. You may even fall afoul of the Hague Convention, which deals with international child abduction.


Seek help at these family-violence specialist centres:

PAVE Tel: 6555-0390 Blk 211 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3, Singapore 560211.

Trans Safe Centre Tel: 6449-9088 #01-58, Blk 410 Bedok North Ave 2, Singapore 460410.

Project Start Tel: 6476-1482 #01-672, Blk 7A Commonwealth Ave, Singapore 141007.