07/21/2017 04:33 EDT | Updated 07/24/2017 07:24 EDT

New Brunswick seeks champions to help campaign against intimate partner violence

FREDERICTON — Melissa Shea had been married for more than two years but no matter what she did, she says it wasn't good enough for her husband.

She was stripped down emotionally and became separated from family and friends.

It was only after an intervention by a friend that she found the strength to break fee from an abusive relationship. 

Shea told her emotional story Thursday in Fredericton at the launch of a New Brunswick campaign aimed at preventing intimate partner violence by enlisting people to become champions to help spread the message.

"I am a survivor and I will continue to be a survivor," Shea said. "I felt so drawn to this campaign. I just had to be part of it."

A Love Shouldn't Hurt champion will be expected to initiate one activity per year, such as a community talk, a walk or run, a video screening or any other activity that engages the public and spreads the campaign message.

New Brunswick has the highest rate of intimate partner violence victims in the Atlantic provinces, according to government statistics, with a woman being killed by her partner every six days in Canada.

"Everyone has a role in preventing intimate partner violence," Justice Minister Denis Landry said after showing a number of online videos produced for the campaign.

For Shea, it was the first time she had told her story to a large crowd, let alone reporters and television cameras.

While it was emotional for her to deliver the message, Shea said it was a story she wanted to tell and the speech quickly wrote itself.

She said soon after she got married, her husband often argued with her and his words were degrading.

"During my relationship, I was torn down, I could do no right and nothing I could do would change this. It was verbal abuse. I thought to myself, 'At least he doesn't hit me,'" she said.

Shea said that because it wasn't physical abuse, she often tried to rationalize the situation and would end up blaming herself.

She became separated from family and friends, and left university because she was made to feel guilty about the cost. She didn't visit family because she said he claimed he would be too lonely without her.

Shea said she knew the relationship was bad and knew there were supports in the community, but didn't believe they were for her because she was subjected to emotional manipulation rather than physical abuse.

"You start to believe it is your fault and that you are the reason why this is happening and why you're being treated poorly," she said.  "We need to share the message that abuse is more than being struck. It is more than mean words and it is more than controlling."

Shea said time after time she felt she was just being overly dramatic and that she was to blame for the things her husband was saying to her.

Eventually, Shea said a friend managed to convince her to join her for a day of tubing, and used the opportunity to express concerns about Shea's relationship.

"A few more months passed until it blew up. I was ready to get out this time. I was ready, partly because she was right, partly because I was tired, and partly because I felt I was not good enough to be loved anyway," she said, occasionally pausing to hold back tears.

"I didn't know where I was going to live or what was next. The emotional and verbal abuse continued, vague threats, abusive calls to my place of employment, trips to the police department. I needed support, and I wish I would have known the options I had to get my feet back on the ground."

Shea said she is doing much better now, but still carries some of the emotional scars of the relationship. She is anxious to become one of the champions for the program in an effort to help others.

Rina Arseneault, associate director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research at the University of New Brunswick, said everyone has a role to play to reduce intimate partner violence, not just as professionals, but as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbours and citizens.

"Intimate partner violence is a major public health problem and a violation of human rights. It results in serious short and long-term physical, emotional, sexual and mental health problems for the victims," Arseneault said. "Violence knows no class, race, ethnicity or religion. It goes beyond boundaries."

Those who successfully complete the application process to become a champion will be trained this fall and given a tool kit of resources, promotional items and up to $500 from the Crime Prevention Association of New Brunswick to support their proposed activity.