From left: Jeannine Lauber Oren, Patrisha McLean and Mary Lou Smith stand outside Oberg Insurance & Real Estate Agency in Bridgton on Wednesday. Emma Sorkin

A nonprofit dedicated to supporting survivors of domestic abuse is raising awareness of the issue in a unique way in Lakes Region communities.

Patrisha McLean, who founded Finding Our Voices, was joined by fellow survivors of domestic abuse Jeannine Lauber Oren of Casco and Mary Lou Smith of Scarborough in Bridgton July 14. The trio entered businesses in hopes of hanging banners on windows overlooking the street.

Each banner displays a photograph of one of 34 different women aged 18 to 81 who has experienced domestic abuse alongside a quote about their experiences and the words “Say Something.” The group has hung approximately 1,500 banners across Maine and asks that the businesses keep the posters up for at least a month, though many opt to display the banners for longer.

Oren holds the bookmarks which display 34 different women and domestic abuse survivors. Emma Sorkin

“It’s really eye opening every time we enter a business,” McLean said. “I would say in maybe half of the places, there will be a business owner or manager or customer, sometimes it’s happened where it’s been all three, and they’ll tell me that they have been through it, and they’ll just start talking, and it’s really emotional.”

McLean left her ex-husband, Don McLean, who is known for the iconic song “American Pie,” in 2016. Don McLean was arrested on charges of domestic violence.

Three years later, in February 2019, Patrisha McLean founded Finding Our Voices. The organization’s first exhibit displayed portraits of survivors and their stories at the Camden Public Library. The exhibit was going to be on display in different locations, until the pandemic hit and McLean decided to take the exhibit outside.

“I thought it was just going to be a COVID thing, but people are out and about, businesses are still taking them and they’re still wanting them, and we’re still getting more and more people reaching out to us because of the banners,” she said.

Though it is often an uncomfortable and taboo subject, the project has received much support. One of the project’s sponsors is The Good Life Market in Raymond.

Bookmarks from Finding Our Voices with survivors of domestic abuse and their stories on display outside The Good Life Market in Raymond. Emma Sorkin

“I was really moved to see the posters hanging there and to have seen the faces and the words of women who have survived domestic violence and who have gotten out and read their messages in their own words,” said the market’s co-owner Linda Manchester. “It spoke to me about the way that this is such an issue throughout our society. It’s easy for us to think this only happens in impoverished families or this only happens where people aren’t educated, but it really can happen in any family.”

Both Smith, who lived in Raymond for 13 years and is now 81 years old, and Oren are featured on the banners. Smith’s banner reads: “It’s never too late to leave.” At age 65, she said she is a survivor of domestic abuse for 43 years; Smith left her ex-husband.

“I’ve made some beautiful friendships, and a place to share my passion, to tell my story,” Smith said. “My dream is that one person I never knew leaves an abusive relationship. What we’re doing is very personal. We’re not looking for praise and notoriety, we’re just looking to help people that are living in abusive relationships.”

Though the group emphasizes shared experience and surviving domestic abuse, the posters differ in an attempt to highlight the various forms domestic violence can take.

For Oren, her experience falls into the category of financial abuse. Oren recently worked with her state Representative, Jessica Fay (D-Raymond), to pass LD 748, a bill that protects survivors of domestic violence from financial abuse and expands the definition of domestic violence to include the term financial abuse.

“The process was brutal because it really was born out of my own financial abuse situation with my ex, who I was going through a divorce with,” Oren said. “Typically, an educated, wealthy, empowered abuser will use that as a weapon of choice because they somehow feel entitled to do it that way. They think it makes them smart if they can beat up on their wives and girlfriends financially instead of punching them in the face.”

Smith and Oren stand beside a newly hung poster at Bridgton Books on Wednesday. Emma Sorkin

Both Smith and Oren explained that though painful, putting up banners around the state and raising awareness around this issue has helped them to heal.

“We want women to know they’re not alone and that there is a pathway out, but the pathway out is different for every woman and that’s the real trick, helping woman discover on her own what her pathway is,” Oren said.

While in Bridgton on Wednesday, Oren, Smith and McLean hung posters up at a range of storefronts, including Bridgton Books and Oberg Insurance & Real Estate Agency.

“This is a men’s issue. I’m done owning this problem and only talking about the victims. …Why does he do it? We are shifting the accountability from healing to stopping the abuse,” Oren said. “This is about taking our power back.”

For more resources, visit findingourvoices.net or call the 24/7 National Domestic Abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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