AUGUSTA – Finding Our Voices gathered with Gov. Janet T. Mills at the State House on July 25 for the ceremonial signing of a law that was initiated by the survivor-powered and grassroots nonprofit and brings safety to domestic violence victims. The bill’s legislative sponsor Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden was also present.
Dezarae Caron, owner of Nail Junkee nail salon in Auburn, was one of seven attendees who had testified for the bill in April in front of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. After Tuesday’s signing ceremony she said, “I never thought I could be a part of anything like that. I was just one person. Now I feel so empowered. I have a voice, I have a say. And I can’t wait to do more.”
The new Maine law, An Act Regarding Eligibility of County Jail Inmates for a Community Confinement Monitoring Program, restricts the early release of domestic abusers from county jails and requires stronger efforts be made to notify victims when an early release does occur. Others who testified in support included the Maine Prosecutors Association, the Maine Sheriff’s Association, and the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, which helped to draft the bill.
Patrisha McLean, founder/president of Finding Our Voices, said that she was alerted to the “back door” release from jail of domestic abusers from a victim who asked her to find out why her ex who had just reported for his two-month jail sentence was now posting on social media. The man had two previous convictions for domestic violence against two different women and was on probation when he criminally assaulted her.
“After some calls,” said McLean, “I found out that he had been released through something called the Community Confinement Monitoring Program, that this program does not confine and does not monitor, and that sexual abusers were exempt but domestic abusers were not. That’s when I contacted my legislative representative Vicki Doudera to see about also curtailing these Get Out of Jail Free cards for domestic abusers.”
Patrisha McLean’s ex-husband the singer-songwriter Don McLean received a Deferred Disposition plea deal that resulted in no jail time for his domestic violence charges against her in 2016 (https://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/21/singer-don-mclean-takes-plea-deal-in-domestic-violence-case/).
McLean said, “as more and more Maine women who are domestic abuse survivors connect through Finding Our Voices, more and more understand that what we thought was disregard for us as individuals by those charged with keeping us safe is actually universal, with a system in Maine that skews to services, rights, and consideration for the perpetrator over the victim. There is a long list of things that need to change to make our state safe for women and children and LD 692 is a great first step.”
Finding Our Voices breaks the silence of domestic abuse across Maine and provides programs and funds to empower women to get and stay safe and keep their children safe as well. Gov. Mills is one of 45 survivors aged 18 to 83 with their photo portraits on the group’s posters and bookmarks in 90 Maine towns that destigmatize victims and educate the general public. For more information about Finding Our Voices visit https://findingourvoices.net.