October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in Maine we are rallying our communities to take action individually and collectively. In the last 10 years, Cumberland County has experienced the devastation of domestic homicides in Portland, Westbrook, Naples, Gorham, Falmouth, Windham, Freeport and Gray – in some cases, more than one domestic homicide in the decade; some of the instances involved multiple victims of murder and serious injury.

Domestic homicide is a failure on all of our parts: to notice, to act, to intervene. All too often we expect the person who is living with the abuse to stop it, when that person is in the greatest danger and nothing they can do will end the abuse. Only the person perpetrating the abuse can make it stop, though sometimes there are ways that you and I can help.

At Through These Doors, Cumberland County’s domestic violence resource center, we offer support, safety planning and other services to people living with domestic violence. Last year advocates on our helpline spoke with an average of 20 people per day (every day of the year), and advocates met in person with approximately 29 people per working day in our outreach sites all over Cumberland County. The need for services is great and we are here to help. But support for people living with abuse is not limited to trained advocates – each one of us can do our part.

How can you help?

• If you know someone you are concerned about, share your concerns in a private, safe way. Tell them that you care. Be prepared to share information on services, such as Through These Doors’ helpline number. It is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day: 800-537-6066.

• If you know someone who you believe is being abusive, speak with them: Tell them that you see what they are doing and that it is not OK to treat another person this way. People who are abusive can make better choices but often will not if their coercive behaviors are working for them and if they feel entitled to their actions.

• Check out helpful resources. The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Abuse’s website has suggestions for how to take action, including ways to intervene and advocate. There is information on how each one of us can challenge pervasive notions that fuel domestic violence. Visit MCEDV.org/take-action.

• Learn more about homelessness and domestic violence. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness, especially for women. Nearly all homeless women have experienced abuse at some point in their lives, and more than half are homeless because of domestic violence. As the city of Portland examines and makes changes to its homeless shelter system, a specific plan must be made for people who are not safe in their homes.

Through These Doors operates the only emergency shelter in Cumberland County for individuals and families fleeing abuse in their homes. Specialized advocacy for those who are homeless because of domestic violence is critical, and Through These Doors advocates are trained to support people over time as they build a life free of violence. Grounded in over 40 years of working with and for survivors of domestic abuse, the organization is the leading voice on this issue in the county and must be part of Portland’s plan for homelessness. Any adequate solution that the city develops must include domestic violence advocates to ensure the safety of homeless families.

The encouraging news about domestic abuse is that it is within our power to reduce this problem. It is not innate; it is not unsolvable. Communities around our nation that create coordinated responses to domestic abuse do see progress that saves lives and holds those responsible for the violence to account. Our communities are safer when we all act together to provide support and resources to people who are living in fear, challenge beliefs that encourage abuse and break the silence.

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