Stone-faced. This is how a classroom of middle-school students looked after I introduced myself as the president/founder of a Maine non-profit that is breaking the silence of domestic abuse in Maine.The concepts of enforced silence and domestic abuse seemed alien to them.

I was there presenting the Finding Our Voices K-12 Love/not Love art project, empowering young people to find their voices around what is love and what is not love. The eye-, mind- and heart-opening results — painting, collage, poetry, sculpture, and a comic strip, by boys and girls aged 4 to 18 from a dozen partnering schools — are on display in Midcoast Maine through June.

OK, I said. Tear off a piece of paper and write down why someone might stay silent. Folded-up bits of paper were collected. I read the anonymous, pencil-written sentences out loud.

“Don’t want to rock the boat.”

“Other person might retaliate”

“Afraid of being made fun of.”


“They might not think it is important (even though it is)”

“No body will listen.”

These statements by 13- and 14-year-olds are bullseye darts answering why there is so much terrorizing going on in kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms in our communities, and also why the verdict just handed down in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard civil-court trial is so dangerous to domestic abuse victims.

Heard was ordered to pay Depp $15 million for calling herself a “public figure representing domestic abuse” in a 2018 Op-Ed in The Washington Post.  She did not mention him by name. She did not mention any details of what he allegedly did to her. She only stated that she was a victim of domestic abuse. 

Anyone can sue over anything, and Depp sued her for that. And, for that, a jury found her guilty of defamation.

It doesn’t matter here if Johnny Depp was abusive, if Amber Heard was abusive  or if they were both abusive.  


What matters is that someone was punished big-time by our justice system for publicly calling herself a domestic violence victim, and also a court precedent was set that everyone – victims, lawyers, abusers – now knows about. 

An emboldened domestic abuser is a more dangerous domestic abuser. And this verdict is sure to further embolden abusers, and further silence victims.

Someone doesn’t “stay” in domestic abuse. They are held hostage, traumatized every day by the endless quest to “keep the peace” with someone who is all about creating chaos and is utterly unpredictable as far as what will set him (or her) off. 

The key to getting free from domestic abuse, and getting your children free, is to say something, to someone. Saying something alerts others that something is wrong and also alerts you, because to voice it is to make it real. Saying something can produce help that you don’t know is there, and break the inter-generational cycle. It can save your sanity, give you back your life, and save your life.

But when you are trapped in domestic abuse,  everything conspires to keep you silent and this is why it is hardly ever reported. 

Here are some more reasons during my school visits that were cited by Maine middle-schoolers for staying silent: 


“You don’t want to get the abuser in trouble because you love them.”

“Their partner/family member might be scary.”

“It’s embarrassing for people to see me that way.”

“Scared you will be hurt again”

“The victim might think there isn’t any help.”

And this one: “Fear of what the outcome could be and who it would benefit.”

— Special to the Press Herald

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