Members of Finding Our Voices, a nonprofit, hung up banners featuring domestic violence and abuse survivors in South Portland on Sept. 29. The group was visiting the greater Portland area for three days in order to spread education about their organization and the need for domestic abuse sufferers to speak up. Catherine Bart photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but Patrisha McLean, founder of Finding Our Voices, said that the organization is spreading education of the issue every day of the year.

Finding Our Voices, a nonprofit that launched in 2019, visited South Portland on Sept. 29 to put up banners in storefronts, hoping to provide education as well as names and faces of domestic violence survivors, said McLean. The members are “breaking the silence of domestic abuse.” The group also visited the area earlier on March 13. Scarborough resident and domestic abuse survivor Mary Lou Smith helped the organization put up posters at that time.

Roughly 1,800 banners have gone up all over Maine, McLean said. These banners feature the names, faces and quotes of 38 women, all who have survived domestic abuse and are letting others, especially women, know that they are not alone.

At CIA Cafe on Ocean Street in South Portland, McLean, and fellow Finding Our Voices members Kerry Roarke, Eliza Conley-Lepene and Jeannine Oren hung up a banner featuring Roarke, which reads, “I was the sole income earner and I had to ask for spending money.”

“I feel that people tend to view domestic violence victims as looking a certain way, being of a certain socio-economic class, and it was important to me that there be a picture to be out there so that people who were in my situation, as a pharmacist, well-educated, successful, and it still happened to me,” Roarke said. “It was important to me that they see I wasn’t afraid to speak up.”

Oren said she was among the first women to have her photo featured on a banner. She, Roarke and Conley-Lepene soon learned that they had much in common, along with other survivors.

“There is a sisterhood here, which is really important when you think (you are) the only one this has happened to,” Oren said.

Finding Our Voices members in front of CIA Cafe in South Portland. The banner features member Kerry Roarke, who is quoted, saying “I was the sole income earner and I had to ask for spending money.” Her story can be found at findingourvoices.net. From left to right are: Eliza Conley-Lepene, Patrisha McLean, Kerry Roarke and Jeannine Oren. Catherine Bart photo

Nearly 99 percent of women in domestic violence situations are financially abused prior to assault, she said.

“It just happens,” she said.

New legislation in Maine, LD 748, now includes “economic abuse” in the legal definition of domestic violence in the state, Oren said. Support from Finding Our Voices, women who are not afraid to speak up as well as studies, helped the legislation to pass after first being unsuccessful.

McLean has found that law enforcement officials have reached out to thank Finding Our Voices for giving women the courage to speak out in court cases, especially in custody battles, she said.

The most important way to begin getting out of a domestic abuse situation is speaking to someone, McLean said.

“When you say something to someone, that’s a huge difference because you put a name to it,” she said. “When you speak it out loud, that’s the first important step, and that’s what’s happening in Finding Our Voices, is women coming out from a deep cover of shame and embarrassment — misplaced, because it’s not their shame — and once they talk about it, that’s the first step to getting help, healing, getting free physically and emotionally.”

Finding Our Voices is entering schools now, McLean said.

“High schools are taking all 38 of our posters and putting them all throughout the schools,” she said.

The group has an online domestic violence-related book club, often times with the author present, McLean said. Finding Our Voices also offers a private virtual support group.

A new access to a Get Out, Stay Out emergency grant allows women to leave abusive situations and make sure their children are safe, McLean said.

McLean encourages people to check out findingourvoices.net, where they can read the stories of the 38 women that are displayed on banners throughout the state of Maine.

“It’s working like gangbusters, and we’re just going to keep doing it,” she said of the organization.

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