A mother of three was rescued after 15 years of torment by her abusive husband.
All because a stranger decided to step in to help her instead of turning a blind eye and minding his own business.
A two-year-old boy, Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser, is now dead after being abused by his mother and her boyfriend.
All because the people around them never thought to intervene or inform the authorities.
This thin line between life and death was highlighted yesterday at the National Family Violence Networking System Conference, where the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) launched the Break The Silence campaign.
The three-year campaign wants to drive home the message that family violence is not a private matter and that people who are aware of family violence can do something about it.
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said at the conference: “We cannot remain silent on family violence. This silence may lead to another unfortunate case like Daniel’s.”
Daniel, who died last November, was abused by his mother and her boyfriend for 25 days during a 35-day period. After his death, 41 injuries were found on his tiny body.
Recalling the tragedy yesterday, Mr Tan said: “Instead of a safe haven, home became a place of fear and torture. I am deeply saddened by Daniel’s story.
“I ask myself if this tragedy could have been avoided. Could we, or anyone, have sounded the alarm earlier?”
After his two tormentors were sentenced to jail in July, The New Paper had asked the same question.
Surely, someone must have known of the abuse, said Mr Tan. Yet the case never appeared on MSF’s radar.
“Could we be more vigilant and be attentive to those who may be suffering in silence?” he asked.
“In the end, our intervention capabilities are only as good as the eyes and ears on the ground to identify victims in need.”
A study conducted by MSF on family violence revealed that four in 10 found it hard to report a case of family violence because they felt it was a private matter.
But professionals can reach out to the victims only if bystanders sound the alarm, said Mr Tan.
A series of artwork by survivors of family violence at Star Shelter was exhibited as part of the conference yesterday.
They tell of the survivors’ pain, fear and isolation, as well as their hope and courage as they rebuild their lives.
On the sidelines of the conference, Ms Sudha Nair, executive director of family violence specialist centre Pave, shared a rare case of how a mother of three was rescued after 15 years of spousal abuse because a stranger decided to intervene.
The victim had stuck with her husband despite being sexually abused, physically beaten, harassed and wrongfully confined.
Financially dependent on her husband, she had to beg him for money. Sometimes, he gave her money by throwing notes in her face.
She was not allowed to contact her family, who lived overseas.
One day, a stranger saw the husband verbally abusing her in public and advised her to apply for a personal protection order.
This set into motion the opportunity for her to break free of the vicious cycle of violence.
Today, with the help of Pave, she is financially secure and carving out a future for herself and her children – something she could not have imagined in the past.
“If not for that bystander, all these things wouldn’t have happened,” said Dr Nair.
“She probably would still be in this very abusive relationship and suffering. And what is worse is that the children would also be suffering.”
No signs are small enough to be tolerated, she added.
“You have to let the professionals decide how serious it is. Your job as a bystander is to alert the professionals that something is wrong and let them come in and do the investigations.
“It’s always better to err on the side of caution, rather than look at Daniel and say, ‘Yes, we could have done something. This two-year-old could have been saved.'”
Next Wednesday will mark the first anniversary of the day Daniel was found dead.
Mr Tan hopes the day will also be a lesson for everyone to stop being mere bystanders.
“As long as violence in the home is shrouded in silence, the violence will not cease,” he said.
“We can prevent other horror stories if we all resolve to take a stand to break the silence on family violence and offer comfort, help and support to the vulnerable.
“Through our collective efforts, we will keep our children and families safe and secure, free of violence.”
As Dr Nair put it: “That step you take could possibly save someone’s life. It’s a very important message we need to send out.”
A version of this story first appeared in The New Paper.