Time to break the silence about domestic abuse

By The Republican Journal Editorial Board | Jun 03, 2021

For the month of June, The Republican Journal is lending the front windows of its office to Finding Our Voices' exhibit, "Waldo County Breaks the Silence of Domestic Abuse," meant to raise awareness of domestic violence. The featured artworks will be sold in a silent auction on Finding Our Voices' website to support the nonprofit.

Finding Our Voices founder Patrisha McLean, who is a survivor of domestic violence, recently sat down with The Republican Journal.

Works are displayed in the windows of 45 Belfast businesses to get people thinking and talking about domestic violence in all its complexity and commonness. As McLean emphasized, many people may think they don't know anyone who is a survivor or domestic violence, but they are probably wrong. Another common misconception is that bruises and broken bones are the only type of abuse that counts. In fact, emotional abuse can cause just as much damage. Even just living in a home where someone else is being abused — for example, a child whose parent is victimized — can be deeply traumatizing, McLean said.

Attorney General Aaron Frey released at the end of April the 2021 Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel Report. The current review period includes cases going back to 2018.

The report talks about the proportion of Maine homicides that are attributable to domestic abuse. "In 2018, nineteen perpetrators committed twenty homicides, nine of which the Department of Public Safety categorized as domestic abuse homicides. In 2019, nineteen perpetrators committed twenty-two homicides, nine of which were categorized as domestic abuse homicides. Together, these eighteen domestic abuse homicides accounted for nearly 43% of Maine’s total homicides during this two year period."

Nationally, the report says, 92% of female murder victims are killed by a man they know. Its data also show that domestic abuse homicide is overwhelmingly committed by men against women: in the current biennial report, 17 of 20 offenders, or 85%, were men, while 14 of 22 victims, or 64%, were women. The report defines domestic abuse homicide as including both intimate partner homicide and intrafamilial homicide.

Everyone has a part to play in ending domestic violence, McLean said. She called on state legislators to "pass laws to hold these guys accountable," noting that domestic abuse is a Class D misdemeanor, whereas stealing an item worth more than $1,000 is in the more serious category of Class C offenses. She noted that offenders seldom receive jail time and many cases end in plea bargains with the domestic violence-related charges dismissed.

When someone is arrested for domestic violence, she said, police should hold them for 48 hours to give the victim time to get to safety. Police also should learn how to gain victims' trust and offer them resources for help.

Hospitals, social service agencies and churches can display posters from Finding Our Voices and other organizations that help survivors to let them know there is somewhere to go for assistance and to tell their story in safety.

It's important to understand that abusive behavior can range from physical violence to subtle emotional torture. Most of all, McLean wants people to realize that domestic violence is everywhere, in every community, every level of society, all kinds of relationships.

The panel's report reinforces the importance of friends and family members in helping survivors. "In fourteen of the nineteen cases reviewed by the panel," it says, "family, friends or co-workers were aware of domestic abuse occurring in the relationship of the perpetrator and the victim. … (They) tried to assist victims … ."

It goes on, "The family, friends and co-workers of a victim can play an important role in preventing the abuse and death of victims." The report also notes that anyone who is aware of someone who is abusing a current or former intimate partner or family member can contact a community-based advocacy organization for support and resources to safely help victims.

Ironically, most survivors think they are alone. In truth, they are surrounded by others who have suffered similar experiences. As McLean said, "Breaking the silence is huge, because everything comes from that."

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