The plight of women trapped in abusive relationships

  • Nation
  • Monday, 27 May 2019

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama): For over a year and a half, Suri (not her real name) was trapped in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend.

"Every day was a nightmare. He used to beat me on my head with a steering lock and punch my stomach. He forced me to quit my studies and even my job; he would feel jealous or get angry with me for ridiculous reasons," said the 25-year-old.

She kept the abusive relationship to herself and each time her parents asked about her bruises and swollen face, she would say that the injuries were from the silat tournaments she took part in.

Suri, who was only 19 then, tried to escape from the relationship once by moving to a new place but her plan failed after her boyfriend discovered her whereabouts and threatened to beat and kill her parents.

Then one day, he invited Suri to his house as he wanted to introduce her to his mother.

"While waiting for his mother’s arrival, he asked me to get him the TV remote but when I refused to do so, he got mad and tried to punch me. I grabbed a wooden chair near me and smacked his face with it and he fell.

"He got back on his feet and pushed me onto the floor and then ran to the kitchen to grab a knife to kill me. I managed to run outside and screamed for help. Luckily, a neighbour pulled me inside his house and called the police,” she said in a choking voice when detailing the incident that happened some six years ago.

Her father then warned her ex-boyfriend that they would make a police report against him if he continued to disturb Suri. And, for two weeks, she chose to stay at home as she was afraid to run into him.

"He kept sending me messages asking me to get back with him and my neighbours had seen him stalking my house. I told him I would lodge a police report against him if he continued to contact me," Suri added.

Fortunately for her, he disappeared from her life for good.

It took Suri more than one-and-a-half years before she could finally leave her vicious boyfriend.

People who get caught in an abusive relationship often have no recourse except to remain with their partners because their lives may be at stake if they try to escape.

Unlike domestic violence where the spouse or family member is adequately protected by the Domestic Violence Act 1994, non-married people involved in intimate partner violence or relationship abuse cannot seek the help of the authorities.

Society, in general, has an indifferent attitude towards such relationships as they think that the abused person can easily leave their partner as they are not married.

According to Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Sumitra Visvanathan, there are many cases of abusive relationships in Malaysia.

She added that most of them go unreported.

"We are concerned about it," she told Bernama, adding that such cases do not get much attention from the authorities.

"We know a lot of these cases go unreported. Furthermore, the legislation governing domestic violence doesn't apply to them as they are not married."

Urging the government to amend the Domestic Violence Act 1994 so that it covers victims of intimate partner violence or relationship abuse, Sumitra said it was also necessary to introduce anti-stalking laws in Malaysia.

In January, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong was quoted as saying that the government was looking into the possibility of drafting anti-stalking laws. The act of stalking has to be classified as a crime because it can cause the victim to feel threatened, he said.

Abuse does not solely involve physical action such as beating and punching. Subjecting one's partner to mental or psychological distress is also a form of abuse.

According to the WAO, about 93% of women residing in shelter homes are reported to have been psychologically abused by their partners for years, although they were not harmed physically.
None of the victims are aware that it is a form of abuse.

Dr Ahmad Rostam Md Zain, a psychiatrist at Sultanah Bahiyah Hospital in Alor Setar, Kedah, said when women are in an abusive relationship for a long period of time, it may cause them to normalise the action.

This leads to the battered woman syndrome, where the victim allows herself to be abused or is unwilling to escape from the situation even if she could.
"This situation is also called 'learned helplessness'," said Dr Ahmad Rostam.

It means the victims are in denial about what is happening to them and think that their partners will change in the near future. To them, the abuse they face is one of the sacrifices they have to make.

"Victims of this syndrome are unique - they don't like the situation of being abused but want to be abused. They seek partners who have a tendency to be abusive after they have escaped from their past abusive relationships.

"This is why each time we get a case involving an abuse victim, we will always ask them to go for a mental health assessment to prevent such things from happening again,” he said.

Unfortunately, it is hard to determine psychological abuse because often there is not enough physical evidence like injuries to convict the abuser.

In such cases, it is best if the victim goes for a psychological examination to clarify her mental situation, added Dr Ahmad Rostam. - Bernama


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