Finding our Voices members visited the State House in Augusta in April to alert legislators to the changes that need to happen to make Maine women and children safe. Photographed (from left) are Mary Kamradt, Pamela Gagnon da Silva, Patrisha McLean, Melissa Quintana and Jeannine Lauber Oren. Courtesy of Patrisha McLean

Finding Our Voices, a nonprofit for domestic violence survivors, is hosting a public event Wednesday at the Freeport Community Library where survivors aged 18-83 will share their stories of abuse, escape and healing to spread awareness.

Nonprofit founder and photojournalist Patrisha McLean said she created the organization to help other women in crisis after her nearly three-decade marriage to folk singer Don McLean ended. She said before her ex-husband’s arrest in 2016, she never spoke of the physical and emotional abuse in her home out of embarrassment and fear. After going public, she said dozens of women approached her to share their stories, igniting her idea to start an organization for survivors.

McLean said the nonprofit started as a traveling art exhibit of photographs of abuse survivors and a recording of their story for patrons to listen to. Soon after, “I just started hearing from more and more women,” she said.

According to the World Health Organization, one in three women have been physically and or sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

In Maine, a domestic violence assault is reported to law enforcement every 2 1/2 hours, according to The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

McLean said it isn’t easy to leave an abusive partner, especially if they have financial control over a victim. Helping to fund legal consultations, emergency motel stays, storage-unit fees or even making car payments are a few of the ways the nonprofit aids in helping victims escape. But because the abuse takes such an emotional toll, McLean said Finding Our Voices also offers weekly online support groups.

Janet Desmarais said it has been 12 years since she left an abusive partner, but she still struggles with feeling safe, even in her own home. She said her ex-husband was a respected member of the community, so many of his friends didn’t believe her when she told them what was going on at home. She said it left her feeling like it was her fault and that she “just needed to be a better partner.” She said those feelings of self-doubt were squashed the day her ex-husband punched her in the mouth, and she knew she had to leave.

Desmarais said Wednesday’s discussion is intended to provide a safe space for women to talk about their own experiences and maybe even learn how to identify if a friend or family member is going through the same thing. She said when attempting to help a domestic abuse victim to be “gentle, understanding and supportive.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Janet Desmarais’ last name. 

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