Local organization broadens definition of domestic violence

Sat, 02/11/2023 - 8:30am

Finding Our Voices, a grassroots, Camden-based organization, is working to raise public awareness by redefining what domestic violence looks like.

This summer, the organization won a Purple Ribbon Award for its bookmarks with the faces and stories of 44 Maine survivors of domestic violence. The Purple Ribbon Awards, run by experts in the domestic violence field, strive to nationally honor advocates, programs, shelters, survivors and community support systems

Finding Our Voices won the same “Outstanding Awareness Campaign” award last year for its poster series. Over 5,000 posters appear in businesses and organizations in almost every town in Maine, according to findingourvoices.net. They were also recently added to Goodwill dressing rooms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Survivors featured range from ages 18 to 82, and include an incarcerated woman and Gov. Janet Mills.

Patrisha McLean, founder/president of Finding Our Voices, felt it was important for the campaign to go beyond the stereotypical image of a woman who has been beaten. She said if domestic violence is only depicted as physical, then victims and perpetrators will dismiss experiences of financial, sexual, or emotional abuse.

“When you reframe the issue, and you're like, “Well, have you ever been with someone who controlled you?” all of a sudden you realize that there's a lot of people going through (domestic abuse).” 

McLean called the campaign’s success “groundbreaking,” especially since it was a pivot caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. After photojournalist McLean’s touring photo exhibit of 14 survivors was shut down due to quarantine, the group decided to put posters in the few places people were still going. The availability of Finding Our Voices’ message became even more important due to rising levels of domestic violence amid the isolation and financial strain of COVID-19, she said. “I do think that it's worse than it was three years ago with domestic violence, which makes me realize that what we're doing is so even more important now than when it started.”

Finding Our Voices is also working to educate young people about the signs of abusive relationships. The group has been hosting an online survey for people ages 13-26 through participating high schools, community colleges and universities to collect information on dating violence. The group plans to use the information to create a special series of posters. The group hopes to roll out the posters in February, in time for Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.

Finding Our Voices also provides Sister-to-Sister Support to address money issues or mental health. In 18 months, the fund has dispersed around $75,000 for rent, car repairs, lawyer consultations, dental care, clothing, gas and groceries, according to findingourvoices.net. The nonprofit also collaborates with other domestic abuse and social service agencies to help survivors. 

“I basically was more traumatized by the system, the courts, legal, all that stuff, than my ex. There were no services,” said McLean. “Domestic abuse agencies do a lot of wonderful things, but there's so much that needs to still be done. So, we are kind of filling in the gaps.”

McLean left her own abusive relationship after 29 years. It’s never too late to leave, she said. “There is help out there. And the first step to getting out, to getting free, is to say something to someone that you trust. Because there is a bright life on the other side.”

Learn more about the organization at findingourvoices.net