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Woman who was abused by 91-year-old mother for at least 5 years ordered by court to move out

Woman who was abused by 91-year-old mother for at least 5 years ordered by court to move out

Photo illustration of an assault. (Photo illustration: Ngau Kai Yan)

SINGAPORE: A 65-year-old woman who has been living with her abusive 91-year-old mother has been ordered by a family court to stay in a safe place for two years.

The woman, named only as Madam Lily in a judgment released on Wednesday (Nov 9), is single and has been living with her mother Madam Kan in a five-room Housing Board flat.

Mdm Lily (not her real name), is a retiree. She used to work as a polytechnic lecturer and a relief teacher and stopped working in 2016.

In the judgment, District Judge Amy Tung said Mdm Lily has five other siblings, but both she and her mother have limited or no contact with them.

Mdm Lily's siblings reportedly kept their distance from their mother to prevent her from harassing or abusing them.

Two of the siblings had obtained personal protection orders against their mother. Mdm Kan reportedly turned up on previous occasions at the siblings' homes and workplaces to complain about them and to hit them, the judge said.

The Director-General of Social Welfare had made an application for Mdm Lily to be committed to an unnamed place of safety for two years.

This is the second such application. Mdm Lily was previously committed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for six months.

To obtain the orders sought, the Adult Protective Service successfully satisfied the requirements under the Vulnerable Adults Act, which came into force almost four years ago.

These include: to show that Mdm Lily is a vulnerable adult, that she has experienced or is at risk of abuse, that the orders sought are necessary for her protection and safety, and that it is in her best interests to be committed to a place of safety.

Mdm Lily has no other friends or social support outside of her home and lives a fairly isolated existence with Mdm Kan, court documents stated.


Mdm Kan has been abusing Mdm Lily since 2016, the court heard. Mdm Lily herself reported that her mother would slap her, pull her hair and hit her with a walking stick on a weekly basis, causing injuries.

In January 2016, Mdm Lily applied for a personal protection order after her mother used a feather duster to hit her left leg and hand until the feather duster broke.

Her mother also bit her arm, pulled her hair, stamped on her feet and hit her head with bedroom slippers.

The personal protection order was granted, and the two women were referred to Care Corner Project Start (CCPS) for mandatory counselling.

However, when CCPS officers made an unannounced visit in June 2016, Mdm Kan was screaming at Mdm Lily, with Mdm Lily cowering in fear.

Although Mdm Lily wanted to leave the home, Mdm Kan did not allow her to leave, and the police were called in due to Mdm Kan's increasing agitation.

Mdm Kan's aggression escalated when the police arrived, and Mdm Lily was placed in a crisis shelter. She returned home later that month after Mdm Kan signed a safety plan agreement not to hit her daughter.

Even though Mdm Lily shared that the counselling was not helpful in stopping her mother from being violent, she rejected further intervention by CCPS.

Despite the personal protection order imposed, Mdm Kan continued to physically abuse her daughter from 2016 to 2021. 

There were at least six breaches of the personal protection order in 2017. Mdm Kan punched her daughter after the latter bought the wrong potatoes in January 2019.

In August 2021, when Mdm Lily was waiting to be admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Emergency Department for insomnia, her mother was seen hitting and scolding her. She also attempted to pull Mdm Lily's intravenous plug.

When hospital staff tried to intervene, Mdm Kan waved her walking stick at them in a threatening manner. On another occasion at the hospital in November 2021, Mdm Kan pushed Mdm Lily's head twice and tried to snatch her phone. She tried to bite a security guard who was attempting to escort her out of the hospital.

Mdm Kan also appeared to be controlling Mdm Lily, described in court papers as "emotional abuse". She confined Mdm Lily at home and restricted her social activities, keeping the keys and not allowing her daughter to leave home alone.

She always accompanied Mdm Lily on grocery or library trips, and said the world "is a scary place". She also claimed that Mdm Lily would get raped or killed if she went out alone.


Mdm Lily was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002 and was stable on outpatient follow-up. She did not need to be admitted to hospital until January 2019, when her mother assaulted her. 

Mdm Lily was punched in the eye and nose until she bled from her nose and had to admitted to hospital.

Since April 2021, Mdm Lily was also admitted to hospital on multiple occasions for insomnia, leading the doctors to believe that her persistent insomnia could be a sign of psychiatric relapse.

Mdm Lily also admitted herself for worsening insomnia to another hospital. Both hospitals raised concerns that Mdm Lily's mental condition may have affected her ability to appreciate the risk of abuse by her mother, rendering her vulnerable to further abuse.

A medical report dated Feb 3, 2022 found that Mdm Lily's overall cognitive profile was consistent with cognitive impairment seen in patients with chronic schizophrenia.

In interviews with professionals, Mdm Lily was observed to deny incidents of violence and create excuses for her mother's use of violence when confronted with evidence.

Despite sharing that she was fearful of her mother's violence, Mdm Lily continued to hold the view that she was safer at home than outside.


Mdm Kan suffers from Organic Mood Disorder and brain damage, which contributes to her violent and aggressive behaviours. In a medical report, the doctor said the part of Mdm Kan's brain responsible for emotional control has significant atrophy and scarring.

Her aggression is more likely due to brain damage, and she does not show any sign of remorse, said the doctor.

In Mdm Lily's medical report, the doctor noted that Mdm Lily continues to have unrealistic expectations for her mother's behaviour to improve. She insisted time and again that her mother had changed and was much nicer to her.

The Adult Protective Service found that there is a high risk of further abuse if Mdm Lily continues living with Mdm Kan.

Mdm Lily is appealing against the decision. She told the judge that she was bored at the place of safety, and that her mental health would suffer if she continued to stay there.

She also expressed helplessness that there was nothing very much that the Adult Protective Service could do to change her mother, saying she was the only one who could.

However, the court found that Mdm Lily's mental health had begun improving after she was placed in out-of-home care away from her mother. She was eating and sleeping well and participated in activities organised by the place of safety.

The judge said Mdm Lily's simple wish is to return home so that she can live with and take care of her mother.

"While such a wish is to be welcomed in all children for the sake of their elderly parents, in Mdm Lily’s case, it is premised on the erroneous belief that her mother has changed for the better and will not hurt her anymore," said Judge Tung.

"The years of abuse had, unfortunately, also led her to normalise her mother’s behaviour. While having mental capacity, Mdm Lily also has cognitive impairments that impact on her social judgment and self-protective capacity. Furthermore, Mdm Kan stands in a highly dominating position in their relationship, with substantial influence over Mdm Lily’s decisions and preferences."

She added that community and social work interventions had taken place for years with various professionals attempting to work with and assist the family to no avail.

"It would thus seem that all community efforts had already been exhausted before statutory intervention was taken as a last resort," said Judge Tung.

"I would like to strongly encourage the siblings of Mdm Lily to reconsider their decision and come forward to provide the much-needed familial support to her," said the judge. 

"While they had shared a difficult and then distant relationship with their mother, Mdm Kan, it is sincerely hoped that they can put the past behind them, especially in light of the information that Mdm Kan’s aggressive behaviours are due to her brain damage."

The court will review the case in 12 months' time. In the meantime, community agencies will continue to provide support to Mdm Kan, who has been shown to be able to manage her own care independently, rejecting food ration delivery services. 

As Mdm Lily expressed concern that her mother may pass away while she is gone, the court said any deterioration in Mdm Kan's health could warrant a variation of the court's orders.

Source: CNA/ll(rj)


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