Lawmakers are considering a bill that would provide funding to increase the pay for sexual assault victim advocates across Maine by about 40% over the next two fiscal years.

During a public hearing on Monday, lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee heard from workers who staff 24/7 hotlines, help victims navigate a complex legal system, connect them with mental health counselors, find housing and work with children who have experienced abuse.

The work is invaluable, advocates say, but with salaries of about $32,000 a year it’s also severely underfunded.

L.D. 566, sponsored by Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, would allocate a little more than $3 million over the next two fiscal years to bring salaries up to about $45,000 a year.

Duson said during Monday’s hearing that Maine is experiencing a crisis. A decreasing number of advocates, working with a growing number of people reporting sexual assault, are experiencing oversized workloads and chronic burnout; and some victims “are not able to get full support in their difficult journey to seek justice and to heal.”

No one testified against the bill Monday. The Office of Child and Family Services said in a letter that it isn’t taking a position on the bill.


Jamie Miller, a forensic interviewer for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, said she spends her weekdays meeting with children. She gathers information from young victims to help law enforcement officers investigate what happened without retraumatizing them. Miller believes in the work, but it’s hard and emotionally difficult.

To support her family, Miller recently had to get a second job on the weekends. She told lawmakers she makes more as a part-time cashier at a café on Saturdays than she does on a weekday interviewing child victims of sexual assault.

“We do this work and we do it well, but not without immense dedication, ongoing training and support,” Miller told the committee Monday.

Destie Hohman Sprague, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, testified Monday that these positions are largely staffed by women. As a result, she said, there are huge gender pay disparities at play. She said the legislation would go a long way toward addressing that.

“This is critical work that’s not even coming close to the living wage in Maine,” said Hohman.

Stephanie Moores said she often relies on a single advocate from AMHC Sexual Assault Services when she takes in foster children who have experienced abuse.


It’s an “invaluable service,” she said, and one that could be an option for more Mainers in her situation if the state increases advocates’ salaries.

Disability Rights Maine, the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, the Maine Transgender Network and the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition also testified Monday in support of the bill.

If Maine can hire more advocates, advocacy groups say, that would mean more people who can meet survivors where they are. That includes correctional facilities – the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found in February 2020 that nationally at least 50% of women entering prison have experienced physical or sexual abuse.

In 2021, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault reported that its advocates supported 133 incarcerated people on more than 500 occasions.

That work extends to the Maine Transgender Network, which often relies on advocates to help transgender survivors.

“In serving transgender people, we are serving survivors of sexual violence,” said the group’s executive director Quinn Gormley.


At least 70% of transgender Mainers that her organization surveyed have experienced sexual assault at least once in their lifetime, she told lawmakers. The percentage was higher for certain groups: At least 86% of transgender Mainers of color, and at least 91% of those with a disability said they’d been sexually assaulted.

Fatuma Hussein, founder of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, said her group operates a gender-based violence program. They are able to connect survivors to multilingual, multicultural victim advocates who respond to their needs with cultural sensitivity.

Although sexual violence is prevalent in every community, Hussein said, those who arrive from war-torn countries often have a disproportionate experience with sexual violence.

“Imagine, if we paid our victim advocates fairly. Imagine if we acknowledge the work they do every day,” Hussein said. “This is exactly what this movement does every day. This bill is crucial to the safety and wellbeing of our staff, and survivors in our state.”

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