Shane Gibson/Metro Winnipeg Doug Smith, 32, and Chantelle Normand, 26, spoke to students at Sisler High School Wednesday about domestic violence. Smith is a former abuser while Normand was a victim, and the pair have just finished a school project on domestic violence.

Chantelle Normand and Doug Smith have both experienced domestic violence, but their stories come from drastically different sides of the abuse.

Normand spent seven-years with an abusive partner before escaping with her three children about a year ago. Smith, on the other hand, verbally and emotionally abused his wife until she left with their two kids last year.

The unlikely friends spoke to a class of students at Sisler High School Wednesday about a report they’ve written on the problem.

“If it wasn’t for people like Chantelle who speak up and say what has happened to them, people like myself would continue to abuse,” Smith, 32, told the class of Grade 12 Global Issues students. “A domestic violence relationship never gets better, it only gets worse unless someone speaks up and gets the help that’s needed.”

Being able to speak publicly about his actions comes after a year of hard work and self discovery for Smith, who entered a substance abuse treatment centre and began counseling after his wife left when the abuse turned physical.

“She packed up her stuff, packed up my kids, and I couldn’t find her,” he said. “I put a missing persons report out and I had the police show up letting me know… she was in a shelter and did not wish to talk to me.”

Normand, 26, and her kids had to live at two Winnipeg shelters after she fled the physical, emotional and sexual abuse as well.

“I didn’t want my children to become abusive or be victimized,” she explained. “It was hard at the time because you don’t have a sense of control over yourself—when you’re in an abusive relationship that gets taken from you.”

Normand and Smith are both in the process of finishing high school and their report is part of an assignment from their own Global Issues class.

The victim and the former abuser say working together has helped them both heal, and hope to put a face on the issue by talking to the students

“I think it’s positive for men that are abusive to know that someone took a stand and admitted what they did was wrong and are trying to change,” said Normand. “Maybe it’ll start a positive pattern.”

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