October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, launched nationwide in 1987 to connect and unite those striving to address and reduce domestic violence in our local communities. Through These Doors, Cumberland County’s domestic violence resource center, is our community’s provider of services to victims and survivors, educator and trainer on all issues around domestic violence, legal system expert, system change leader and accountability educator for perpetrators of abuse. Our organization covers all of Cumberland County and engages in holistic, victim-centered, trauma-informed services.

The theme of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Maine this year is “What Does Safety Look Like?” We recognize that for all affected by abuse, there is a unique answer. You will continue to see responses to this question throughout October in Through These Doors’ social media pages.

In 2021, the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel released its biennial report, a 20-year look back at domestic violence homicides in Maine from 1998 to 2020. The work of the panel, which meets monthly to discuss and review domestic homicide cases in Maine, is in part to make observations and recommendations to improve systems for protecting people from domestic and sexual abuse through laws, rules, policies and procedures. The panel also considers the role of individuals in responding to domestic abuse in our lives. The 2021 report, said to be the most in-depth and reflective analysis of domestic violence homicides that has been done in Maine, shares a consistent observation of the panel: People close to a person being victimized (family, friends, neighbors, coworkers) are often aware of the abuse and concerned about what might happen but are unaware and unsure of how to be helpful.

It is my own observation as a panel member that in many cases of homicide, friends of both the victim and the perpetrator knew about the abuse but never contemplated that the perpetrator could take that final step and kill the victim, kill and harm others and sometimes kill themselves. The misconception is common that those who choose to use abusive tactics are monsters or evil when, in fact, in all cases, perpetrators are someone’s supportive friend, loving brother, caring father, helpful neighbor or favorite coworker. Opening our eyes to the reality of domestic abuse, and who commits these unacceptable acts, is necessary to reducing its occurrence and impact. If you would like to know more about domestic abuse and how to be helpful, you can call our 24-hour helpline. It is free and confidential and can be anonymous. If someone you care about is being abused, please share this resource with them. They will speak with a trained advocate who is skilled and compassionate, nonjudgmental and informed about resources. The number is 1-800-537-6066.

To those involved with Through These Doors, our work is deeply personal. We know the people who have been harmed, debilitated and killed by a perpetrator, survivors who walk away from the relationship only to have the violence and terror follow them. Someone who chooses to be controlling, intimidating and violent may make the choice to continue and even escalate their tactics once the relationship is over. Only the abuser controls the abuse, though we as a community often have opportunities to intervene.

Amanda M., a survivor who has relied on the services of Through These Doors, has this to say, Women need to reach out to advocates prior to doing anything. This is the first step, this is what I encourage, this is my message.

“This year I will lay my case to rest in honor of those who truly never got justice, those are the ones that didn’t get to use their voice, those who never made it out, those who want out and may never leave. I will do this in honor of all of you, the advocates and people that spend their life trying to help women like myself. I will honor myself as a survivor, not a victim.”

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