By SHARMILA NAIR
IT IS normal for a girl to want to dress to please her boyfriend. But for some girls, that is not an option. It’s an order.
For Alyssa Patricia (not her real name), wearing short skirts and high heels whenever she was with her boyfriend was a strict dress code she had to adhere to.
“My boyfriend always wanted me in short skirt and high heels when I was with him. He’d monitor my body and complain when I gained weight.
“I would only eat a bun for lunch and a spoonful of rice for dinner just to maintain my weight,” said Alyssa, 24.
She was also not allowed to straighten her hair, choose her nail polish colour or wear pants.
“I’d tell him that I was cold at movie theatres and wanted to wear jeans but he wouldn’t listen to me. I still had to wear a short skirt no matter how freezing cold it got.”
Sheila (not her real name) also had to look good for her boyfriend and was forced to dress sexily whenever she was with him. But on other days, she was supposed to turn into Plain Jane.
“Every time he called me, he’d ask what I was wearing. He did not like it if he thought I dressed too nicely without him by my side,” said the 22-year-old psychology student. “I had to look absolutely perfect when I was with him. He liked to parade me like a trophy and when my male friends were around, he often exaggerated his affection towards me to show that he ‘owned’ me.”
The same affection, however, was lost when a cute girl walked by him. He would immediately act as if Sheila was not his girlfriend, she noted.
Sheila and Alyssa confessed that their boyfriends had total control over them.
Their boyfriends dictated almost every aspect of their lives – from what they wore to their choice of friends.
What they did not realise then was that what they went through was also a form of abuse.
Types of abuse
Women’s Aid Organisation social worker Puveshini Rao said that there are five types of violence against women – sexual, physical, psychological, social and financial.
“Sexual abuse includes sex without consent and date rape but physical abuse is the most common abuse in a relationship,” said Puveshini.
In psychological abuse, the perpetrator would play severe mind games with the victim, making them believe that their suffering is the result of their own wrongdoings.
Social abuse happens when the abuser isolates the victim from their family and friends, restricting their movements and keeping their partner to themselves.
“When something happens in the future, these victims would not have anyone to go to because they have been trapped in the relationship for too long,” Puveshini explained.
Financial abuse is when the perpetrator keeps taking the victim’s money and threatens to leave when they don’t get a certain amount.
The psychological abuse that Alyssa faced escalated into sexual and physical abuse six months into the relationship.
Alyssa had met her boyfriend at 17, and they maintained a long-distance relationship as they lived in different states.
“Every time we met during term breaks, I’d want to catch up with things between us but he’d immediately ask for sex. When I said no, he’d tell me that I was frigid and that I didn’t understand his needs,” she said.
Her boyfriend would then force himself on her.
“Sex without consent is rape. He would try sexual positions and techniques I wasn’t comfortable with, and has physically hurt me during sex before,” said Alyssa, who works with an NGO.
Her boyfriend also insisted on having sex without protection because he said it was more pleasurable for him.
Alyssa would succumb to his demands, only because she didn’t want to get into another argument.
“Sex was not a pleasant experience for me,” she revealed.
Her boyfriend apologised from time to time for his rough actions, but he was never repentant for long and continued to force himself on her whenever he wanted.
“It didn’t matter that I was crying and said no to him,” said Alyssa.
Sheila, on the other hand, was not forced to have sex with her boyfriend. Instead, he had sex with other girls, and even with some of her close friends.
“He told me he was a virgin and that he wanted to wait until marriage before having sex with me,” she said.
His betrayal hurt all the more for Sheila because she had also bought his story of being poor and supported him financially.
“He often lamented that his parents weren’t able to provide him with any luxuries in life. So, I would buy him expensive clothes and shoes whenever he asked,” she said.
Sheila used the money she saved from her various part-time jobs to support her boyfriend, and had even given him weekly allowances.
“Every time he called to say that he didn’t have any credit on his cellphone or that he didn’t have any money to eat, I would bank in about RM50 to RM100 a week,” she said.
At that time, Sheila was in her late teens and not allowed to be in relationships. So, she kept her problems to herself.
When all his other lies began to unravel, Sheila tried to cut all ties with her boyfriend.
“I wanted to leave him but he wouldn’t let me. I stayed because I was scared that he’d tell my parents about us,” she said.
Puveshini said that there are various reasons why girls remain in violent relationships.
“The victim would have probably tried to escape but every time they got away, the perpetrator would catch up with them and force them back into the relationship,” she said.
The abusive partner would then use emotional blackmail to get the victims to think that they can never get out of the abusive relationship – no matter how hard they tried.
“When a girl is often told that she is ugly, useless and unworthy of love, over a period of time, she will begin to internalise it and start to think that it’s true,” Puveshini noted.
Sheila admitted that she stayed with hr boyfriend for two years because she allowed him to put her down.
“I didn’t think that anyone else would love me after that. I kept asking myself ‘Who is going to love me? Who is going to want me?’ if I did leave my boyfriend,” she said.
Alyssa decided that she had to leave when she started thinking about getting hurt and hospitalised just so her boyfriend would be affectionate towards her.
“My boyfriend didn’t care about me at all. I was so miserable being in the relationship and I wanted out. Then, I remembered my parents and stopped myself from doing anything stupid.”
Alyssa’s friends helped her gather the courage to tell her boyfriend that she was leaving him.
Unfortunately, he refused to let her go.
“He called me twice or three times a day, crying and asking me to take him back. But I didn’t want to give him a second chance,” she said.
After news spread that Alyssa and her boyfriend had broken up, some of them blamed her for ruining what they thought was a happy union.
What they didn’t know was that it was just a front Alyssa put on because she didn’t want to worry her parents.
“I got a lot of blame for ending the relationship but I didn’t feel like going around telling people about what my boyfriend did to me,” she said.
Alyssa eventually found someone who cared for her and helped her through the difficult break up. Now, she has been with him for almost five years.
Sheila is now befriending a man whom she says understands her well.
“I am trying to think positively and not let my past ruin my future. Looking back, I feel angry for letting myself get tricked that way.
“I don’t want to think about him. I’m just focusing about the positive things in my life – the money I’ll make, the cars I’ll drive and how I will pamper myself,” she said.