Maine has a domestic violence problem. The whole country has a domestic violence problem, of course, but it sticks out in Maine because we have a relatively low overall crime rate.

Domestic violence comes in many forms. It’s not just the stereotype of a woman with a black eye saying that she ran into a door, although it can certainly be that. Domestic abuse can happen to people, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or class (although the large majority of victims of domestic abuse are women). It can happen to strong, empowered, successful women. It may be emotional, financial, physical or a combination. There are many reasons why victims leave, or don’t leave, or leave and return and leave again – money (the lack thereof), fear, social stigma.

There’s no shame in being a survivor of domestic violence. The shame belongs to the abusers who take the sacred structure of a loving relationship and use it to hurt their victims.

The shame should also belong to witnesses who turn a blind eye, and community members who refuse to help. Shame belongs to all 100 members of the United States Senate, which has not passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (which must be reauthorized every five years). Seriously, the Senate has been sitting on it since the House approved it in April. Millions of dollars in funding is being held up, including funds for domestic violence prevention programs, funds for housing programs and funds for law enforcement. The 2019 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act also closes several jurisdictional loopholes that currently allow abusers to commit crimes against Native American women on Native land with impunity. And jurisdictional loopholes are pretty much the absolute stupidest reason for abusers to walk free.

There are many things that individuals (including, yes, you) can do to prevent domestic violence. You can call your senators and tell them to get off their butts and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. (This action is most helpful if you are someone with a lot of money, or power, or a personal connection to a senator.)

You can donate to, or volunteer with, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, or Caring Unlimited in Sanford; Through These Doors in Portland; Safe Voices in Auburn; New Hope for Women in Rockland; Family Violence Project in Augusta; Next Step Domestic Violence Project in Machias and Ellsworth; Partners for Peace in Bangor; Hope and Justice Project in Presque Isle, or the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine in Lewiston.

You can offer an open home to a friend in need any time they might need it. But the most important thing to do, and the essential place to start, is to believe survivors. Believe people when they tell you that they have suffered abuse, even if the accused seems like a perfectly nice person.

Not all cases of domestic violence end in homicide. But the ones that do almost never come out of nowhere. Someone always knows what’s going on. Often several someones. We will never end domestic abuse without community members stepping up and stepping in, offering shelter and support to survivors and refusing to allow abusers to live peacefully in our midst.

One of my best friends survived an abusive marriage. When she left, it cost her just about everything – her house, her savings, her career (which had been linked to her husband’s), most of her friends, even her dog (which I re-homed.).

And what did she gain?

Well, she’s still working on the career thing, but she moved into a gorgeous apartment in the neighborhood of her dreams. She took up long-distance running and now has legs of steel to match her heart of gold. She has what seem to be dozens of new friends (including, I am lucky to say, me). Whatever the future holds for her, it will be her decisions that guide it, and nobody else’s.

What did she gain by leaving? Nothing more and nothing less than that essential American value: freedom.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial


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