For nearly a decade, the effects of domestic violence were real to Berta Ruesga.
"It was my first love and the relationship was always abusive, but I didn't know better," Ruesga said in Spanish.
She's the type of person organizers of the Peace for Families march have in mind as they mark Domestic Violence Awareness month with a march.
The 26-year-old said, through an interpreter, she was 15 when she met the man who would become her husband. From the beginning, she said, he was verbally abusive daily and physically assaulted her on two occasions.
"He was very controlling and kept me isolated from my family," Ruesga said.
At 16, she had her first child. She said although her high school offered day care and she wanted to return to school, her husband wouldn't permit it.
Ruesga said her husband would also hide things and tell her she lost them. "He was starting to make me feel like I was crazy," she said.
In 2009, she moved with her two young children and husband from San Jose to Los Banos. After 10 years of abuse, and seeing the healthy relationship of her sister, Ruesga reached out to the Valley Crisis Center in August 2011.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and Valley Crisis Center plans the Peace for Families march and community gathering at 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at Pacheco Park, on Seventh Street and Pacheco Boulevard. One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, organizers said.
Legal Advocate Reina Nino, who served as the interpreter, said Ruesga's story is a textbook example of abuse. It's common for an abuser to not just be physically and verbally abusive, but to control the victim through isolation, blame and "mind games."
"A lot of it falls in that circle of violence, we call it," Nino said.
In the year since contacting the center, Ruesga has received counseling and legal services. The staff developed a "safety plan," which devises a way for the victim to safely get away from the abuser.
Ruesga said she was able to move out with her children; friends and family see the change Valley Crisis counseling has made in her and her children's lives.
Ruesga urges other women to visit Valley Crisis Center, because abuse isn't normal.
"With just one time coming (to the Valley Crisis Center), you get so much information and can see if your relationship is abusive or not," she said.
The domestic-violence awareness march will proceed from Pacheco Park to the Police Annex, 545 J St., where there will be a program, food and raffle. For the first time, organizers will release white balloons and hold a moment of silence for women killed this year by abusers.
Coinciding with the march will be a food drive to benefit The Salvation Army.
Valley Crisis Center can be found in the Police Annex from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays. It also offers a 24-hour crisis hotline at (209) 722-4357.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.