From left, Riley Kennedy, Miss Cumberland County; Patrisha McLean; Dana Ward; Meg Libby (Riley’s mother); all in the trademark yellow of Finding Our Voices; pose on July 13 at Reilly’s Bakery in Biddeford, with Michael Reilly, back, who ran the bakery for 35 years and worked there for 52. Courtesy photo

BIDDEFORD —  For 10 years, Rebekah Lowell of Biddeford was in an abusive relationship — longer if you count the four years of dating before she married her ex-husband. He not only physically abused her, she said, but “abuse is also about power and control.”

“I wasn’t allowed in public” without him, Lowell said. Her husband isolated her from friends. Though she saw her family, it was on a limited basis and they weren’t allowed to do normal things like pick up the couple’s two daughters on their own. “If we did visit there was always punishment after,” because, she said according to him, there was always something that she did wrong.

The reason she eventually left, Lowell said, “was when he brought home a dental drill. He decided he was going to fix one of the girls’ cavities.”

“When it affected my kids, that was the push,” she said.

“I could write a book,” Lowell said, and then laughed as she actually has shared her story in the book she penned, “The Road to After.”

Rebekah Lowell, putting up her Finding our Voices poster, at New Morning Natural Foods in Biddeford on July 13. Courtesy photo

On July 13 in Biddeford, Rebekah, accompanied with her 13-year-old daughter, also shared her story in person, as did several other women and one man at Reilly’s Bakery on Main Street. The group who all were, or had family members that were, survivors of domestic violence abuse gathered together as part of their effort to educate the public about domestic violence by placing posters around town that feature the names and faces of survivors under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization Finding Our Voices.

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Founder and president of Finding Our Voices, or FOV, Patrisha McLean, said that day the group posted about 75 posters, of their large and new smaller size posters, in the storefronts and interiors of businesses and organizations in downtown Biddeford and Saco. The posters show the faces and words of domestic violence survivors. The group plans to come back to the area at a later date, McLean said, because there are more local businesses where the posters can be placed.

Five of the women on the posters — including a doctor — featuring Maine survivors of domestic violence aged 18 to 82 are from the Saco/Biddeford area, McLean said.

“We have put up 4,000 or so posters in downtown business windows in 65-plus towns all over Maine since April 2020 (the start of COVID),” she said — and had been to the Biddeford/ Saco area once before at that time. “But Biddeford/Saco was the launch of our smaller-poster campaign, which is getting us more broadly and deeper into the communities because not everyone had windows big enough for the 2’ x 4’ posters we previously brought around. Yesterday, with the option of smaller 11” x 17” and 8 1/2” x 11” posters (sponsored by Baker Newman Noyes), virtually every business person we spoke to in Biddeford and Saco yesterday said YES, including a poster in the Biddeford City Hall window.”

One of the first to say yes to placing one of the smaller posters on their door was Renee Messier, owner of Trillium on Main Street.

She said she agreed to do so because “I know Rebekah and her story. I strongly believe that there needs to be more awareness of domestic violence and help for those who victims.”

Patrisha McLean’s abuse by her then husband, famed singer/songwriter Don McLean — known especially for the classic song “American Pie,” was well publicized. When he was arrested in 2016, Don McLean was charged with six misdemeanors and pleaded guilty to four, and one of the charges – domestic violence assault – was dismissed after a year, according to the Portland Press Herald. He paid a $3,600 fine for the other three charges while maintaining his innocence, saying he pleaded guilty to settle the case.

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Patrisha McLean said after her experience she started Finding Our Voices as an exhibit of photos of women who are domestic abuse survivors three years and later started the organization that educates and also connects those in abusive relationships with resources to help them leave those relationships.

According to the FOV website, the organization is “a grassroots, survivor-powered nonprofit marshaling our faces and voices to break the silence, stigma, and cycle of domestic abuse in Maine, and empowering women and children to get and stay safe.”

When she shared her story, McLean said, she met many others who were still in abusive relationships.

“When we share our story,” Lowell said, she meets others who say “‘me too.’ When we speak about abuse it loses its power.”

Meg Libby of Scarborough, who also helped to place posters in Biddeford and Saco and is also a domestic abuse survivor, said since she’s been sharing her story either in person or through her blog “over 100 people have come up to me and say it’s happened to them too.”

Speaking up is important, she said, because “some people don’t think it’s abuse and they don’t know this isn’t right.”

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She grew up in an abusive family, Libby said, and she ended up in several abusive relationships with men, one of whom she married and another who she had a long-term relationship with.

Her husband, who she had two children with, “had a God complex,” Libby said. He “controlled us.”

Because of him “I thought I was a bad person,” Libby said. “He told me if I left he would tell everyone I was crazy.”

When she finally left him, she said, he convinced many members of her family not to believe what she told them about their relationship. “My family abandoned me.”

When she divorced her husband, Libby said, she got custody of their children, but when she was reorganizing her life she asked him to take them for a month and it was years later before she got them back.

Her daughter, Riley Kennedy, who will be a senior at Scarborough High School in the fall and is the current USOA Miss Cumberland County, said she blocked out a lot of her childhood. But she said she does remember she was physically, sexually, emotionally and mentally abused.

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When living with her father, “I wasn’t able to have friends,” she said. Eventually as a freshman she repeated the cycle and ended up in abusive relationship with her boyfriend at that time, coming home with black eyes and bruises.

Because of her upbringing, Kennedy said, she thought many of the things in both her home life and relationship were normal, and it wasn’t until she shared those things with others that she realized they weren’t. Today she has a healthy relationship with her current boyfriend.

Dana Ward of Biddeford, the lone man in the group, said he connected with McLean and has worked for many years to help victims of abuse — including help to pass legislation in Maine regarding abuse by clergy members — because he has family members who have been victims of abuse.

He said he feels the work FOV does in vital because “breaking the code of silence is very important.”

To find help, contact the domestic violence emergency hotline in Maine at 1-866-834-4357 or nationally at 1-800-799-7233. To contact Finding Our Voices, email [email protected] For more information about Finding Our Voices, visit the website https://findingourvoices.net/

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