Erin Dupee, who grew up in Scarborough, has found a way to again thank the Scarborough police officer who was her lifeline after she was targeted by someone she thought was a friend. Courtesy / Renata O’Donnell Photography

SCARBOROUGH — More than two decades after a horrific sexual assault changed her life forever, an innocuous post on Facebook about a dog has prompted a former Scarborough resident to reach out with a message of thanks to Scarborough police  – and a message of empowerment to other victims who might be afraid to come forward.

It is The Forecaster’s policy not to identify victims of crimes, but Dupee agreed to tell her story to help survivors such as herself.

“You shouldn’t have to carry that alone,” said Erin Dupee. “It’s too much.”

Dupee remembers the day clearly: Dec. 19, 1994. She was 19 years old at the time, and had just come across town to meet a male friend who had asked her to help him with a college paper.

When she arrived, he called for her to come in and come down to the basement.

“He leapt around the wall and put a gun to my head and said, ‘Just do everything I say, and you’ll be OK,'” Dupee, now 46, recalled. “All I can remember vividly at the time was, all the time he made me do these things, the gun was to my temple.”

After it was over,  she remembered a jumble of emotions, most of all fear, that kept her from saying something to her mother as soon as she got home.

But she did call a friend, who encouraged her to do the right thing. Dupee’s mother called the police, the man was arrested and he paid for his crime.

This week, more than 25 years later, Dupee said she was recently compelled to thank the department, particularly the officer who literally held her hand 26 years ago.

The officer was Marla St. Pierre. Now retired, in 1994 she was a sergeant, and one of the first to arrive at Dupee’s house after Dupee’s mother called police. From the beginning, St. Pierre said, Dupee seemed to be a strong person, in spite of what had happened.

“She was a fighter,” St. Pierre said.

Dupee said she recalled St. Pierre did her job as an investigator, pressing for details and information, but it was unlike anything she had seen in the movies or on TV.

“She did it in a kind, gentle, female way,” she said.

Dupee credited St. Pierre with comforting her, even as Dupee went to the hospital.

“Marla didn’t have to stay, but Marla stayed. She held my hand,” Dupee said.

Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton said even after retiring, St. Pierre still maintains ties with the department, and with the help of a local breeder, Leanne Dohler, helped secure and donate a “comfort dog” to the department in 2019. While not trained as a service animal, Moulton said the dog helps with crime victims, or even officers who have been through traumatic events.

The department, in a post on Facebook in November 2019, announced the dog’s new name, “Marlea,” which Moulton said was a combination of St. Pierre and Dohler’s first names.

Dupee donated a drawing of Marlea, the comfort dog donated to the Scarborough Police Department. Courtesy / Olivia Nicol

Dupee, upon reading the post, felt a compulsion to acknowledge what St. Pierre and the department did for her so many years ago, but didn’t know how until an artist friend offered to draw the pup as a gift to the department. On Dec. 19, 2020, 26 years to the day after the incident, Dupee delivered the drawing, along with a handwritten note to Moulton, the department, and St. Pierre.

“Officer St. Pierre was there for my family and I through one of the most horrifying times of our lives,” Dupee wrote.

St. Pierre said this week that Dupee’s letter speaks to her personal strength.

“I continue to be amazed at her resiliency,” she said. “A lot of victims don’t want to tell their story.”

But Dupee has. She has talked about her experience to emergency room doctors at Maine Medical Center, and contributed to a public service film that has since been shown at colleges statewide. Now living in Old Orchard Beach with her husband and two children, Dupee works as a special education teacher at Old Orchard Beach High School, but the road to recovery has not been easy.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of anxiety, a lot of panic attacks, a lot of post-traumatic stress,” she said.

The Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault estimates one in five Mainers will experience a sexual assault at some point in their lives, and 14,000 Mainers each year will experience sexual violence.

However, the Maine Department of Public Safety’s 2018 Crime in Maine report indicates only 448 rapes or attempted rapes were reported to Maine law enforcement in 2017.

St. Pierre encouraged any victims of a sexual assault to reach out to local police.

“They should always seek the assistance of the police, and not be ashamed or embarrassed by it,” she said.

Dupee said she’s glad she spoke out.

“I just can’t imagine where I’d be and what my life would be like if I hadn’t told,” she said.

Dupee said if victims don’t want to talk to the police, they should speak to a parent, sibling, friend, therapist – anyone. Moulton emphasized the need to come forward, and that the police are there to help, just as they were for Dupee.

“As scary as it may be, we will be there, we will listen, we will believe you, and we will support you,” he said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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