POSTED: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 9:43pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 1:16pm
EL PASO - When you meet someone and fall in love, you never think you can be one of the millions of women who are raped or physically assaulted by their husband or boyfriend. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience nearly five million physical assaults and rapes every year from their partner; that victim could be your mother, your sister, your daughter, or yourself. So, how do we prevent abuse and help victims? That's what we sought to investigate here at Newschannel 9.
Maria Sanchez knows how far an abusive relationship can go. Her daughter, Monica Sanchez, became a victim in 2005, at the hands of her high school sweetheart.
"He beat her up...[so badly that] he killed her,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said there were signs of trouble from the start of Monica's relationship with Jorge Gurrola.
"He was very controlling, very jealous,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said Gurrola seldom came around her family.
"...stay away from the family, which is what he did. He wouldn't come over that often."
That can point to an abusive relationship, according to Mental Health Therapist, Idalhi Huizar.
"Isolation...some depression, you start seeing the victim usually isolate themselves from family and friends,” said Huizar.
Maria Sanchez said it wasn't long before she had physical evidence that Monica's boyfriend was hitting her.
"I eventually did see bruises on her.”
And when Sanchez confronted her daughter,
"She defended him when I'd ask her, 'what's going on?'" said Sanchez.
Feeling desperate, Maria Sanchez said she tried everything to convince Monica to leave Gurrola.
"I gave her information on relationships, on bad relationships, and she denied everything...[said] he was the sweetest man in the world, that I didn't know him,” said Sanchez.
The relationship continued for years. Monica had a baby with Gurrola, and moved into his home in Mesa, Arizona.
"I had told her, 'Don't leave. Don't go.' I sort of had a premonition that he was going to kill her," stated Sanchez.
That premonition became a terrible reality on September 4th 2005. Sanchez answered her phone; a police officer began talking.
"He said, 'You have a daughter in Mesa, Arizona.' I said, 'Yes.' And I just felt my heart go down."
Gurrola beat Monica so badly, that she suffered brain damage.
"I got to see her. She was brain dead already. She had been brain dead from the moment they picked her up,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez made one of the hardest decisions of her life-- taking her daughter off life support.
"It took her five minutes to pass away,” said Sanchez.
The beating that killed Monica and her unborn child got Jorge Gurrola 36 years in prison.
Dead at 22, Monica also left behind her one-year-old daughter, Janelle. Sanchez said she believes Monica stayed in the abusive relationship, because she grew up without a father, and didn't want her own daughter to do the same.
That insecurity locks many victims in unhealthy relationships. Idalhi Huizar sees it time after time.
"It lowers their self-esteem. It does tend to make them feel guilty or anxious around their aggressor,” said Huizar.
"It can be a cycle of different patterns. A lot of [the time], it starts with verbal and emotional abuse, and it can lead to physical,” added Huizar.
But one problem is, many women don't realize they're victims of abuse.
"We have to define to them what...abuse [is], because a lot of the time they don't consider it abuse,” stated Huizar.
That vicious cycle can become even worse if victims feel alone. Huizar sees that a lot in border cities, like El Paso.
"A lot of those victims are from Mexico and their family are still in Mexico, and they don't have very many people that can support them,” said Huizar.
However, the good news is, there is help for abuse victims. More than 1,000 people go to the Center Against Family Violence in east El Paso each year-- that includes victims and perpetrators of family violence.
The center has a 24-hour crisis hotline, a family resource center, and an emergency shelter that houses victims at another location.
People who go to the center also get the tools to earn a job and become financially independent.
"The advocates try to motivate the victim to try to get into English classes, GED classes," said Huizar.
"We have the workforce...that are available to [help the victims with]...job assistance,” added Huizar.
"If they are going to look for a job, they can also come look for a tie that they can use for their job interviews...we have regular clothing-- everyday clothing,” said Raul Martinez, an employee at the Center Against Family Violence.
The center also runs two programs for perpetrators. One is the battering intervention prevention program (BIPP); the other, is a prevention program for teenagers (TIPP).
Steven Betancourt went through TIPP after getting into a nasty bout with a family friend.
"Before I went through the program, I acted before I thought. Now, I think before I act," said Betancourt.
Betancourt said the program taught him to control his anger, and that's changed his outlook on life. He completed the three-month-long program last year, but still goes to the Center Against Family Violence as a volunteer.
"I help out around. The way I see it now, I'm trying to help out kids that are going through the same thing I went through,” said Betancourt.
Huizar says programs like these are necessary, because offenders need help to stop the cycle of abuse.
"A lot of the times, the batterers and the offenders themselves may have grown with this. They grew up in a family of domestic violence,” said Huizar.
The cycle of violence still haunts Maria Sanchez six years after her daughter's murder.
"I tried, I tried as much as I could. I guess as a mother, you always feel that you don't do enough,” said Sanchez.
Now a volunteer at the Center Against Family Violence, Sanchez said she wants to help women like her daughter, offering them freedom from abuse before its too late.
“Love your child. You never know when it's the last time you're going to see them,” said Sanchez.
If you or anyone you know is in an abusive relationship and want help, you can reach the Center Against Family Violence at 915-593-7300 or 1-800-727-0511. You can also visit their website: www.cafv.org .