Faces of those who suffered domestic abuse hang in Biddeford window fronts
BIDDEFORD — On a recent day in Biddeford, a couple of women could be seen making the rounds at a number of the city’s downtown businesses, and asking for a visible space on a window front where they could place one of a number of banners they had with them — banners featuring real women who had suffered emotionally abusive.
About 20 of the business owners or managers said yes.
Posted at Pizza by Alex on Alfred Street, Reilly’s Bakery on Main Street, George’s Sandwich Shop on Franklin Street, and a number of other downtown locations are poster-size banners featuring the face of a woman who has experienced domestic violence, and a short quote that tells a little bit of her story. The number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline where people can call to get help and be connected with local resources is included, as is the website for Finding Our Voices, the organization that produced the banners and a repository for the stories of real women who have been victims of domestic violence.
The founder and president of Finding Our Voices, was herself a victim of domestic violence. Patrisha McLean, ex-wife of famed recording artist Don McLean, founded the organization after her experience was made public when her former husband was arrested on domestic violence charges on Jan. 18, 2016 at their Camden home.
Don McLean, best known for his song “American Pie,” was arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence after police responded to a 911 call at his Camden home shortly before 2 a.m., according to the Portland Press Herald.
Patrisha McLean told police that in their home on that January night her then husband held her head with his hands like a vise, according to the Courier-Gazette. She said he held her captive on the bed for hours while he squeezed and punched her arms and legs. She said he also told her that he wanted to strangle her before she managed to get away.
Finding Our Voices, an organization founded by domestic violence survivor Patrisha McLean, recently posted banners in Biddeford businesses, like this one at Reilly’s Bakery, encouraging victims to seek help. Courtesy photo
The couple divorced in June 2016.
On July 20, 2016, Don McLean was convicted of domestic violence criminal threatening, criminal restraint, and criminal mischief against his former wife in Knox County Court, according to the Courier-Gazette.
Patrisha McLean knows she’s not alone.
In 2019, advocates from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence network worked with 13,759 people statewide answering 18,348 helpline calls. In Maine, a domestic violence assault is reported to law enforcement every 2 hours and 5 minutes, according to the Maine Department of Public safety, and only about half of all assaults are reported to law enforcement.
In 2019, the most recent year that Maine Public Safety crime rates are reported, domestic assaults account for 33.9 percent of all assaults. During 2019, police reported 3,689 offenses.
When her story of domestic violence first became public she was “devastated,” Patrisha said.
However, she says now, the publicity was a blessing.
“It broke the silence,” Patrisha said. “I don’t think I ever would have been free had it not been so public.”
After her story of domestic violence came out, she said, women she knew, and some she didn’t, “told me about their stories and said they wanted to go public.”
Patrisha, who is a photo journalist, first created an traveling exhibit “Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse,” which featured photos she took of other domestic violence survivors that premiered at the Camden Public Library on Feb. 15.
She turned many of those photos into banners and now she is bringing the banners to more communities around Maine, providing those experiencing domestic violence with a phone number to connect to resources and with a website where people can tell their stories, and go public with their stories if they so choose.
Currently 29 women are featured on the Findingourvoices.net website. The website includes photos of the women and audio recordings of their stories.
There are stories by women like Olivia who said through there were good days with her partner but eventually “the good days started fading and there were more bad days than good.” She talks about the cruise they took where he got mad and wrapped his hands around head and neck until she couldn’t breathe.
Autumn talks about a number of abusive boyfriends she’s had, some have choked her, cut up her clothes or body slammed her. She says, “(Abusers) claim you as property pretty quickly. For a lot of women that I’ve that met that have been abused, that sort of attention and someone wanting them to the point of them calling them a possession is attractive. I know that he is an abuser but I still find those things attractive. I still enjoy those parts of him. And I still miss him. It’s the most insane thing, to love somebody that abuses you is crazy.”
Johnnie spoke about her experience with her boyfriend who would pull her hair, call her names and at one point hurt her face with a telephone receiver that cut her eyebrow. But for a long time she stayed in the relationship because, she said, “I felt if I loved him enough he wouldn’t hurt me.”
Posting the banners throughout the state is a great way to share the message of Finding Our Voices, Patrisha said.
“We know the banners are working,” she said, because “women are getting in touch with us from all over Maine and they’ve never told anyone (about their domestic violence story) and they’re telling us. They reach out to us because we’re survivors”
Often domestic violence isn’t spoken about, Patrisha said, it’s kept “in the dark.”
“We’re all about getting this issue into the light,” Patrisha said, “getting rid of the shame, the stigma and breaking the silence.”
For those suffering from domestic violence or know someone who is, in York County call the Caring Unlimited Hotline at 1–800–239–7298. You can also call the Maine Domestic Violence Hotline at 1–866–834-HELP (4357) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1–800–799–7233. For more information about Finding Our Voices visit the website findingourvoices.net or email hello@FindingOurVoices.net.