MANILA – Ruffa Gutierrez on Monday shared her experience to help encourage women to speak up and rise above domestic violence.
During the launch of "Voices Against Violence," a partnership of New York-based Avon Foundation for Women and global non-government organization Vital Voices that aims to end gender-based violence in the country, Gutierrez said it was important for victims to speak up and to become financially independent to free themselves from abuse.
Gutierrez in 2007 publicly admitted that she suffered from domestic violence from former husband Yilmaz Bektas.
“Would you believe until now I’m still afraid of my ex-husband?" the former beauty queen said. "Even if he’s invited me so many times to go back, I don’t want to go back because I have this notion in my head that he will kill me."
“It's very difficult. You learn from those lessons but when we discuss it, like right now, there’s still pain in my heart. So I guess you never really forget whatever those experiences have brought you, but you just learn and you move on,” she added.
The former beauty queen, who said she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), admitted that she needed the help of a psychiatrist and a psychologist.
"I was actually even in denial. My parents were saying, 'Why do you have black and blue spots in your body?' I didn’t say anything until I couldn’t take it anymore and I was ready to leave my husband," she said.
"Right now they [victims] have somewhere to go because back then, 12 years ago, I didn’t know who to contact, I didn’t know there was a hotline."
The actress said she survived by getting help and from surrounding herself with people who empower.
Being financially independent is also vital for women who suffered from abuse, Gutierrez said, adding that Avon played a big role in her recovery.
"They gave me job, they got me an endorser... they gave me hope and right now I feel that everyday is a new day and we can spread everything that we’ve talking about to more Filipinas," she said.
Lorin and Venice, the former couple’s children, are also being raised as independent young women. Gutierrez said she has been accepting endorsements for the two “because I want them to be financially stable.”
Avon Foundation for Women and global non-government organization Vital Voices partnered for "Voices Against Violence," a 3-day workshop which brings together entrepreneurs, stakeholders, law makers, law enforcers, civil advocates and survivors, among others, to help end gender-based violence in the country.
The program aims to provide financial literacy for victims, among others, the Avon Foundation for Women said.
"Avon is a mission-driven company and for more than 130 years we’ve been empowering women and we’re fighting strongly to stop domestic violence and sexual assault which are major barrier to the social and economic empowerment of women," said Avon Foundation for Women director Christine Jaworsky.
Gutierrez encouraged women to immediately seek help from authorities and women's groups when experiencing abuse.
"It’s better to speak out and be free and not live in fear anymore than continue your life in a prison cell... If there’s any of you who are listening right now, if you’re getting beaten up by your husbands, we’re here, please tell us because there’s still life out there for everyone."