Patrisha McLean with one of her Finding Our Voices posters in Brunswick in 2021. File photo / The Times Record

Eight Maine survivors ages 18 to 83 will lead a discussion on domestic abuse next week at an event that will also include two short films and an exhibit of photo portraits of 45 survivors across Maine, including Gov. Janet Mills.

The two-hour Finding Our Voices program will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, at the Freeport Community Library. The program’s goal is to “shine a light” on domestic abuse, which is often misunderstood and is more common than many think, according to Patrisha McLean, the nonprofit’s founder and president.

McLean, a photojournalist, was inspired to seek out and photograph other survivors of domestic abuse after her former husband, singer/songwriter Don McLean, was arrested for domestic violence in 2016. That inspiration turned into Finding Our Voices, which exhibits portraits of survivors in Maine in communities across the state.

When you’re going through it, you feel alone,” she said. This work, she said, “serves to really alert and educate the community as to how much of this there is all around us.

Janet Desmarais, who will be one of the panelists at the Freeport event, said she first learned about Finding Our Voices when they asked to hang a banner in the window of the bakery she owned at the time.

“I was very moved by what they were saying, and I started shedding some tears and before I knew it, I was sharing my story,” DeMarais said.


The community of women that Finding Our Voices has created, she said, is important to survivors who may not otherwise see a way out. A young woman once came into her bakery seeking help and they called around to shelters together, she said, but “we got put on hold and she ended up thinking it was too difficult and going back.”

“You have a small window when someone’s ready to give them help,” she said and then they often have to go into hiding, lose their jobs, cars and money.

“And you’re spending your down time thinking that if you were better, you wouldn’t have been in this situation. It’s very hard to be strong to push through it to get to the other side.”

With the group of women in Finding Our Voices, she said, “you don’t feel like you’re alone. You could call one of the survivors and they can kind of be a sponsor.”

Attending events like the panel discussion can be a good first step for people trapped in dangerous situations, she said. “You can tell your partner you’re going to the library, and you will be surrounded by people that can help you.”

Finding Our Voices also raises money to help woman escape abusive situations.


“The more we put our faces out there, we learned about the gaps in protecting women and keeping them safe,” McLean said.

Women fleeing violent relationships often leave with just the clothes on their backs, she said, because their partners control their finances.

Finding Our Voices raised $65,000 last year for its “get out, stay out” fund,” she said.

Before she learned about domestic abuse, she didn’t think of herself as a victim of it because of her preconceived notions about what that meant. “The stereotype is a pitiful woman with a black eye – I never had a black eye and didn’t consider myself pitiful,” she said. Other women don’t identify as abuse survivors because they’re not married or their partner hasn’t physically harmed them, she said. These are some of the misconceptions she hopes to dispel with her work.

She hopes discussions and exhibits like next week’s in Freeport will increase awareness so that people will be able to recognize  warning signs in friends, family members and coworkers.

McLean said that when a group of Greeley Middle School students helped Finding Our Voices hang posters at the Freeport library for the upcoming event, one student said, “I was surprised to see the governor there because she’s such a confident woman.”

Combatting that stigma and others is why this visibility is so important, she said.

The event is free and refreshments will be served. The two short films on coercive control and the impact of domestic abuse on children will be the basis of the panel discussions  and will be complemented by a youth art exhibit on depictions of “love” and “not love.”

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