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Unloved and abused as a child

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Reema Mitoh Amy's mother once forced chilli padi down her throat.

Reema Mitoh Amy did not have a happy childhood. Her parents were in and out of jail for drug-related offences since she was an infant. As the only child, she was taken in by her aunt, who became her foster mother.

Amy said she suffered several forms of abuse at the hands of her foster family. Later on, even her biological mother joined in.

Physically abused since she was 5

When Amy was 5, her foster aunt, a single mother, was working day and night as the sole breadwinner of the family.

"The loneliness was haunting. I once brought home an abandoned kitten, just so I could have something to play with," recalled the 28-year-old animal-lover.

"But when my aunt returned late from work and saw the stray cat, she picked up something lying around and beat me really badly with it. I remember crying for a long time. I was just a kid then."

When she turned 11, her mother's siblings stripped and teased her, she said. They called her out for being "unloved" and "weird" in the family.

"I always questioned myself – was it something I did? If not, why me? I thought that it was unfair because everyone around me always seemed to have it better," said Amy, with downcast eyes.

When Youth.SG met Amy, now 28, in Tampines, the mood was sombre. Her voice shook with emotion as she shared her stories with us at the void deck.

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Amy takes short walks occasionally for some quiet time alone.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KAISAH WASIS

She paused before recalling an incident that happened when she was 11. Amy moved in to stay with her biological mother, who remarried after being released from prison. But things didn't get better.

She was watching television, she said, when her 2-year-old step-brother fell out of his walker. Her mother accused her of hurting her step-brother.

"My mom came over and started punching me. My teeth were bleeding and my entire mouth swelled. I sat there, in pain and in shock. I didn't know what to do," said Amy.

During another incident, Amy, who was then shifting between homes, left her foster aunt's place to live at her mother's for a while. Amy, then 11, recalled feeling unwell one day and turned away her lunch.

"I knew that I would puke if I had eaten it. But my mom forced me and when I puked, she poured blended chilli padi down my throat," recalled the admin executive.

"The worst part was that [my stepfather] was a policeman. I can never forget how my stepfather was one, but did not dare to defy my mother," shared Amy coldly.

When she was 12, her foster aunt sent Amy to a home.

"She decided that I was too much to take on. She promised to take me back from the home in six months, but she never did," recalled Amy bitterly.

Becoming a bully

Amy soon developed anger management issues and a deep distrust towards the people around her.

"Theft, bullying, smoking – name it, and I probably would have done it," she added, looking ashamed of her past.

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She became a bully in secondary school, played truant and skipped class at least three times a week, just to hang out outside the home.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KAISAH WASIS

Her violent antics and repeated acts of truancy got her warnings from her secondary school.

"At one point…I started hating everyone and myself. I thought I was born a curse to those around me."

But nothing seemed to deter Amy, until she was arrested at 16.

Getting arrested at 16 was a wake-up call

"I found myself handcuffed, the same way my parents were. I saw myself as my parents, and that was a wake-up call for me.

"I started feeling afraid, not of the police, but of who I was becoming," said Amy.

After spending a night at the police station, Amy decided to change for the better.

She said: "I was feeling a lot of hurt and I knew I needed to fix that. I reminded myself that I might not have the best of families, but I had my own wings to spread."

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Amy's tattoo of a lady holding a skull, which she got last year, reminds her of the "close contact to death" she experienced during her childhood.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KAISAH WASIS

Over the next few weeks, Amy started to take charge of her life. She approached her counsellor at the home to get help.

"My counsellor told me that if I wanted things to change, I needed to start being responsible for what I did, and what I was going to do about my future," added Amy seriously.

The change did not come easy for her.

"There were times I wanted to give up, but always reminded myself of the day I was in handcuffs and how I never wanted to repeat that," added Amy.

Upon her counsellor's advice, she started thinking about her future. At 17, she enrolled in nursing at Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East. However, she dropped out in her third year as she "lost interest in the course".

"Nursing wasn't my cup of tea, I guess," she said nonchalantly.

She decided to save money to further her studies in another field instead. For five years, she kept herself busy with admin jobs, waiter and bartender duties to earn extra cash. At 25, she enrolled in Kaplan Singapore to pursue an advanced diploma in management.

"I would go to school from 8am to 6pm before heading to work at 7pm. I worked on weekends too, so that I could save enough for tuition fees," recalled Amy, who graduated two years ago.

Healing her old wounds

It has been 15 years since she left her abusive foster home, but her emotional scars remain. She still hates spicy food and feels especially nauseous whenever she sees chilli padi.

Amy also finds it hard to forgive her mother.

"She got divorced in 2016. She came looking for me for help in getting a house. This made me realise that she was making use of me and had no remorse about what she had done in the past," said Amy.

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"She told me she loved me and never meant to hurt me. I tried to believe her, but I just couldn't."
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KAISAH WASIS

She wants to move on

Amy, who has a boyfriend of two years, said: "It's not that I don't want to trust people, but it doesn't come by easy for me…I remind myself every day that I need to try my best," she said.

She recalled how she got together with her boyfriend: "He was the first guy to have ever approached me and not look down on me. He encouraged me to do everything that makes me happy and always looked at me as a strong person.

"The dates we went on made me feel that happiness isn't that far after all."

Was there anything Amy wished she could have done differently?

She replied: "If only I confided in someone back then. Things could have been drastically different. I was lucky to have eventually talked to my counsellor when I turned 16.

"For those who are facing abuse, don't be afraid to step out. You'll be okay – take the first step, pick up a phone near you and just call the hotline today. Everything will be okay."

To report a suspected case of child abuse, call the Child Protective Service Helpline: 1800-777 0000, or head here for more information.

BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/WINSTON TAY