Melanie Daigle tells her story in “Finding Our Voices,” a multimedia exhibition about domestic abuse at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. Photo by Patrisha McLean

AUGUSTA – Patrisha McLean was silent for 29 years. She is silent no more.

McLean, the Camden photographer whose ex-husband, the singer Don McLean, was convicted on charges related to domestic abuse, is giving voice to her story and the stories of more than a dozen other women who have extricated themselves from abusive situations. The multimedia exhibition, “Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse,” is on view at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta through Dec. 13.

Patrisha McLean organized the exhibition “Finding Our Voices” to create a public forum to talk about domestic violence. Photo by Christina Wnek

The exhibition includes McLean’s portraits of the women, audio recordings of them speaking about their abuse and quotes from each about their situation. Shenna Bellows, the center’s executive director, said she wanted the center to host this exhibition because domestic violence is a human rights issue. “So often we think of domestic violence as a private matter. The human rights framework provides an opportunity to challenge that perception and pose it as a societal problem that all of us can address,” Bellows said. “One of our missions is to to give voice to people who have experienced human rights abuses and to work with survivors to tell their stories to lead us to solutions.”

McLean decided to tell her own story about domestic violence after what had been a private secret for decades became public when her husband was arrested and charged with six crimes in 2016. He pleaded guilty to all six charges and was convicted of criminal restraint, criminal mischief and obstructing report of a crime or injury. As part of a plea agreement that included mental health treatment, he was able to withdraw his guilty pleas to charges of domestic violence assault, domestic violence terrorizing and domestic violence criminal threatening. He paid a $3,660 fine.

Because of his fame, Don McLean’s arrest drew widespread media coverage.

In different iterations, this exhibition has toured around the state. Don McLean has tried to halt his ex-wife’s public display of art that addresses their conflict. His publicist has sent letters to organizations hosting the exhibition and media outlets who have covered it, arguing that the display includes “doctored photos and untruthful information concerning the details of the 2016 incident in their home.” Bellows characterized the letter as “threatening” and “a seeming attempt to stop the exhibit or silence the voices that are part of the exhibit.” She also said the exhibition in Augusta will continue through its scheduled closing date.

After Don McLean’s arrest, other women began telling Patrisha McLean their own stories. “Finding Our Voices” is a result of many of the conversations and connections McLean has made in recent years, since her situation became public. “Part of the abuse is isolation,” she said. “I was isolated. I never talked about my situation with anybody, so I didn’t understand it. I didn’t recognize myself as domestic abuse victim. The stereotype is a woman with a black eye. I never had a black eye. The stereotype is a weak woman, and I didn’t see myself as weak.”

Among those whose story is told in the exhibition is former TV news anchor and advocate Jeannine Lauber Oren of Casco, who was instrumental in pushing for a first-in-the-nation economic abuse bill that Gov. Janet Mills signed into law this year. The law took effect the day the exhibition opened, but has since been challenged in court by a credit reporting agency.

Jeannine Oren faced years of legal issues to settle her divorce. She tells her story in “Finding Our Voices.” Photo by Patrisha McLean

News of the legal challenge was disappointing to Oren, but her disappointment was tempered when she learned that the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence is honoring her Oct. 28 in Augusta as a Champion of Change for her work on the economic abuse bill. She pushed for the bill because of years of financial and emotional abuse by her ex-husband, she said. She filed for divorce in 2004, and it was finalized two years later. She spent another 12 years in court arguing about child support and fighting appeals, motions and other legal efforts to thwart a financial settlement. She got her settlement check in 2018, 14 years after filing for divorce. A copy of the settlement check is part of the exhibition.

Melanie Daigle, who owns Fresh Off the Farm grocery store in Rockport, cried when she saw her photo, read her quotes and heard her own voice in the Augusta exhibition. A boyfriend choked her, pushed her against a wall and threatened her with a loaded pistol. Seeing her story told in a public forum “just totally caught me off guard,” Daigle said. But she had no second thoughts. “If we can help one woman, then our job is done,” she said.

When they were married, Patrisha and Don McLean were regular customers in Daigle’s store. “They were faces I was used to seeing all the time,” she said. After the McLeans’ domestic situation became public, Daigle wanted to reach out to Patrisha, but wasn’t sure how. “You want to say something to acknowledge it and let her know you are thinking of her, but what do you say without sounding weird or awkward?”

One day, she just spoke up. “I just said, ‘I hope you are doing well. I saw the article in the paper, and I just want to say that it does get better. Promise.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘You understand?'”

They met later and shared their stories. When McLean organized the exhibition, Daigle agreed to speak up.

Another woman in the exhibition, Maggie McArthur of Ellsworth, also found it jarring to see her story told so publicly. “It’s like butterflies, really, really intense butterflies. But once you get over hearing your own voice, it’s OK. I am hearing my story as if it were somebody else.”

She left an abusive situation more than a decade ago, “but it’s still very much there,” McArthur said. “My goal is to help other women in my situation, by whatever means. Speaking out is one way I can do it.” And speaking out is empowering, she added. “That’s the word that comes to mind. I don’t have to hide this anymore. I don’t have to be quiet anymore. To be surrounded by so many other strong women, empowering is the only word I can think of.”

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