11/25/2012 12:20 EST | Updated 01/25/2013 05:12 EST

Womens' groups launch conjugal violence awareness campaign

Various Quebec women's rights groups are launching a 12-day campaign to address the issue of violence against women to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Louise Riendeau, spokeswoman for the Quebec Association of Women's Shelters, said the issue of domestic violence continues to be a pressing one.

"In the last year, we had more than 19,000 complaints to the police. Those numbers are rising year [after] year," she said.

According to Riendeau, conjugal violence is one of the biggest problems faced by women in Quebec.

She said abuse in a relationship often begins with words and develops from there.

Manon Thibault, who is speaking out about her personal experience with abuse, said her own situation started with verbal intimidation five years before her partner attacked her.

"He said 'you've become fat, you're nothing without me,'" said Thibault.

She called police in August after her partner attacked her in front of her child.

"I was sexually assaulted in front of my two-year-old son," said Thibault. "I made several attempts to fight him off until I was finally able to call police."

Thibault said she had a hard time extricating herself from the toxic relationship but said she "is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

Riendeau said time is a key factor in the healing process, as a victim's self-confidence is not rebuilt overnight.

"When you have been abused by your partner for many years, your self-esteem is low. You may have health problems [too]. So, if we can help women see the violence earlier, it won't be as difficult for them after to come back to a normal life," she said.

Last week, Montreal police introduced a five-year plan to help curb conjugal violence.

The United Nations declared Nov. 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1999.