July 07, 2019
Showbiz scion, actress and beauty queen Ruffa Gutierrez celebrated her 45th birthday this year in the most unexpected way.
A celebrity since her teenage years, the daughter of veteran actor Eddie Gutierrez and the inimitable Annabelle Rama would always have a lavish and star-studded party each year on June 24. But this time, in 2019, one of the most glamorous women in Philippine Entertainment chose to mark her special day in what must have been quite a painful albeit meaningful endeavor. Gutierrez took part in a public symposium to speak about a very dark and tumultuous experience in her past, all in the name of her plight against gender-based violence.
Not a few were surprised to see the former Miss World Runner-Up among a panel gathered by Avon Foundation for Women, Avon Philippines and global NGO Vital Voices on the first day of a three-part workshop dubbed “Voices Against Violence.”
In front of the multinational company’s top executives, Avon’s much valued female direct-sellers and agents, government officials, law enforcers, civil society groups and survivor-advocates, Gutierrez courageously admitted she was once a battered wife beneath what publicly seemed to be her charmed life with ex-husband Yilmaz Bektas.
It can be recalled that at the height of Gutierrez’s career, a rich and handsome Turkish businessman swept her off her feet and married her in what was dubbed as the wedding of the year in 2003. On the surface, she was living the life of a happy and pampered wife who had turned her back on her career, dutifully giving her husband two daughters in Lorin and Venice, and supposedly fulfilling what society has long defined to be a woman’s destiny.
Her reality, however, was tragically far from the truth.
“I was living in Istanbul with a very powerful husband. When [the abuse] happened, I didn’t call the police right away. I didn’t know where to go 12 years ago…” she trailed off.
“I’m telling my story now because I have the opportunity to do so as an actress, and because I know that many women out there are still afraid to speak out and tell their own stories, because they’re scared of their husbands and partners,” Gutierrez explained.
“But let me tell you, we’re all in the same situation — I’m still afraid of my ex-husband even if we’ve been separated for  years now. Even if he lives all the way in Istanbul and I’m here in my safe haven in the Philippines, I still have moments when I think he might run after me just as I’m sure many of you still fear.”
Gutierrez’s daughters were only two and three years old when their mother’s abuse began and therefore oblivious as to how much pain she was suffering.
“I had so many bruises, wounds and scars on my body and it came to a point that I’d have to put makeup on all the time just to cover them. If he would cut my hair, I’d have to put hair extensions,” the perpetual beauty shockingly recalled.
“The [need to] cover up actually became [a] normal [instinct] for me already — a normal situation — but even if you think you’re coping, it messes with your mind even long after the abuse.”
Gutierrez went on to talk about the vicious cycle women in abusive relationships commonly endure.
“At the start, you’ll feel like there’s hope he’s going to change. That’s what I thought even if I had seen early on he was already quite controlling,” she admitted.
“I’d always think [after the abuse], ‘But I love him and I know he’s going to change, [and] all he needs is time.’ What I didn’t realize was that all those reasons and excuses I was making for him were exactly why I allowed him to do those very things to me in the first place.”
Cries for help
Asked if she told anyone about her husband’s abuse as it was happening, Gutierrez said she initially ran to her in-laws. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem alarmed enough by the situation.
“I think in their culture, it’s OK [if those things happen] because a woman is always expected to listen and obey her husband. So every time I would go to my in-laws, I’d cry to them and ask for help. They would actually help me and get mad at their son, but of course, they were also protecting him and would never go to the police and turn him in,” recalled the actress.
It was only when she came home to Manila for a break that she felt safe enough to admit what has happening to her.
“I was even in denial at the beginning even when my parents were saying, ‘Why do you have so many black and blue spots on your body?’ I didn’t tell them anything until I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to tell them. I had to tell my story, and it was only after that I decided it has to stop and that I was ready to leave my husband.”
According to Gutierrez, there’s no easy way of moving on from an abusive relationship.
“I had to see a psychologist and psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” the actress further revealed.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.
“It was a very difficult process to go through — a very painful experience to talk about what happened to you. Even now, there’s pain in my heart so I guess you’ll never really forget what [the abuse] did to you. But no matter how hard, it’s only when you tell your story that you get to learn very important lessons. You learn and then you just have to move on.”
Asked to elaborate on the lessons she learned from the unfortunate ordeal, Gutierrez said first and foremost she made sure she knew where to go, who she can call, and what hotlines were available for abused women if anything happened to her again.
“I had no idea about any of these places or numbers before then and I’m glad that even here at home, many people, and even the government, are already taking the issue seriously and finding ways to protect victims of gender abuse,” the actress noted.
She also emphasized the need to be surrounded by family, true friends and empowered women for support and encouragement to stay the course.
“And I learned that I need to seek help from professionals to get through the difficult journey. A lot of women who went through what I did, I’m sure, are embarrassed to see a psychologist or psychiatrist, because it’s as if you’re saying that there’s something wrong with you when you’re the one who was abused in the first place. But something does happen to you and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” Gutierrez pointed out.
“I also needed [the professional counseling] as a requirement for my annulment… So please, to the government, let’s already have divorce in the Philippines!” she rallied laughing. “The last time I voted, I made sure to find out who’s for and against divorce, to make my choice.”
Finally, Gutierrez stressed the importance of financial independence among women so they won’t be scared to leave their husbands and partners if need be.
“A lot of women endure the abuse because they have nowhere to go and no means for their daily living. That’s why even now, every time my daughters get offers for endorsements, I allow them [to take on the work] because I want them to be financially stable even at a young age. Because the truth is that we women can survive and we can make it on our own without help from our husbands,” she affirmed.
‘Speak out, be free’
Grateful she was able to overcome the worst experience of her life, Gutierrez has successfully reclaimed her dignity, her independence and for the most part her confidence.
“I’ll be lying if I don’t admit that I’m still scared of my ex. It’s been 12 years [since I left him] and we’re OK now. We talk but even if he’s invited me many times to go back to Istanbul, I can’t do it because I have this notion in my head that he will kill me! I’d rather meet him in a safe place like the United States because I know I’d be safe there. My children are American citizens as well so I know that if he goes there and does something wrong, he’ll be sent to prison!” she added in jest.
Moreover, 12 years on, Gutierrez believes all the more in the need to speak out, beginning with her immediate circle of influence — her daughters Lorin and Venice who are now 15 and 14 years old, respectively.
“I first told them about what happened to me when they hit seven and eight years old. By then, they understood what I was saying and they cried a lot. It pained me too to see them hurt but I as their mom, I needed to do it. I need to set a good example for them; to show them they have to be strong and independent women so they will realize it’s never OK to be treated that way. I want them to know they don’t need a man to survive because if I was able to do it then they can very well do it too,” the now-empowered Gutierrez pronounced.
Beyond her daughters, her one urgent message to women who have suffered abuse and continue to endure maltreatment from the opposite sex is this: “It’s better to speak out and be free than to be silent and live in fear. If you’re a battered wife, speak out because we’re here for you. We’re just like you but we sought help and took it in our hands to end the abuse. Please speak out to us and know that there’s a life outside the nightmare you’re living that you deserve.”a
“It’s better to speak out and be free than to be silent and live in fear.“
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