When statistics on domestic abuse are rattled off, and there will be a lot of that in October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I zone out. Why? Because domestic abuse is a crime that is almost never reported (misplaced shame; misguided loyalty, love and guilt; justifiable fear, etc.). So how can anyone say or know how often and where and to whom it occurs?

The Scarborough Public Library and University of Maine Hutchinson Center are displaying photo portraits of 44 domestic violence survivors, taken by Patrisha McLean, founder-president of Finding Our Voices. On Oct. 18, the library is also hosting a panel discussion, with local survivors, on domestic violence’s impact on children. Visit FindingOurVoices.net for more information. akilash sooravally/Shutterstock.com

But here is a statistic I can personally vouch for: More than half the time when I mention domestic abuse to someone in Maine, they tell me they too were terrorized by someone they loved, or that this happened to their mother, grandmother, sister or daughter.

It would be hard to find someone who talks more to random people in Maine about domestic abuse than I do: In the past 2½ years, starting this conversation thousands of times on a Main Street in Maine, on my way to papering more than 80-plus downtowns with 4,000-plus of our posters. 

The posters feature my photo portraits of 44 Maine survivors aged 18 to 81, including me, my daughter, a former Mrs. Maine, students, a doctor, an incarcerated woman and Gov. Mills.  

The posters are the trademark way the nonprofit I started upon the domestic violence arrest of my then-husband is breaking the silence, stigma and cycle of domestic abuse across the state. 

The other day I made a poster pitch to the owner of a barber shop. Within minutes, the eyes of the customer were popping as this burly barber, while razoring the man’s head, related being a little boy watching his father beat up his mother. 

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A paralegal in her early 20s said, “What happened to me wasn’t abuse,” then told how her high school boyfriend insisted on walking with her to every class so she wouldn’t talk to other boys, and showed her burn marks on his neck from trying to kill himself every time she tried to break up with him.

A woman managing a laundromat followed me outside to point out the bumper sticker on her car, emblazoned with a purple ribbon and the photo of a beautiful, smiling woman: her daughter, murdered at 19 by her boyfriend.

The owner of a harborside boutique, who asked for posters for the changing rooms, told me her sister married someone no one liked, then distanced herself more and more from the family, became a shell of herself and managed to get free just months ago, 30 years later.

The survivors on our posters also emphasize the ubiquity of domestic abuse from the intersection of their stories with so many other social justice issues. 

• Immigrant rights: Lian, from South Korea, was refused a court-appointed translator in her Maine hearing for a protection-from-abuse order, which led to its being denied.  

• Incarceration: Milli, whose Finding Our Voices portrait shows the Windham prison’s barbed-wire fence, was pulled into crime by her boyfriend. 

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• Sex trafficking: More than one woman on our posters was coerced by her boyfriend or husband into having sex with women or with other men while he joined in.

• Substance abuse: Escalating substance abuse by Jess’ boyfriend made him even more sadistic, and she became mired in substance abuse herself as a way to try to cope with this.

In the Maine communities our posters go into, what they do is bring the inside out. They show to everyone what is happening, behind closed doors, to everyone and everywhere.   

My hope for this awareness month is for all to realize, the way I have, that domestic abuse survivors-victims are not Them. They are Us.

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