The windows of Belfast City Hall were a colorful showcase for art and poetry that were part of a June 2021 exhibit for Finding Our Voices, a non-profit organization aimed at supporting survivors of domestic violence. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set news policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

Patrisha McLean is the founder/president of Finding Our Voices. In September and October, the group is touring a film/panel discussion program about emotional abuse and the impact on children with stops at public libraries in Damariscotta, Millinocket, Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, York, and Kennebunk. For more information visit https://findingourvoices.net/.

”My ex-husband is getting released from prison early on ‘good behavior.’ Before going in he threatened to kill me and he’s telling friends and family, ‘She is done when I get out.’  

“I am done running and moving to different towns and I no longer feel safe in Maine.”

This message from a survivor was relayed to Finding Our Voices the other day from a caseworker from a mental health provider. The survivor used her last two pay checks to rent the moving van taking her across the country where a relative agreed to temporarily put her up. But she had no money for the gas to get her there.

As I sent out $300 worth of gas cards (and a grocery gift card as well) the next morning through our grassroots non-profit’s Get Out Stay Out fund that has disbursed $60,000 to Maine’s domestic abuse survivors this past year,  I wondered once again: Why does the state so blithely take action that imperils women and children, and just as blithely fail to protect them from this action?

And where is the money in Maine for the victims of our epidemic of domestic violence that is as much of a scourge as the opioid one? “[A survivor] and her children are trying to flee domestic violence,” another social service agency caseworker wrote to me about yet another desperate and imperiled family. “We will have availability in our shelter in three days but don’t have funds for the motel stay in the meantime. We have reached out to four area churches, the town, and the Community Action Program with no luck.” (Finding Our Voices did step up to pay for this).

The more domestic violence victims I hear from or about all across Maine, here are some more questions I keep having:

Why is a perpetrator’s freedom more important than a victim’s safety? Why is a criminal’s behavior to their victim not part of the ‘“good behavior” that determines outcomes in the courts and prisons? Why when violent criminals are released from prison, and especially ahead of schedule, are their targets not provided by the department responsible for this release with a safety planning session that includes money for a security system, car repairs, gas cards etc. that she needs to try to keep herself and her children safe?

There is mandatory minimum sentencing in Maine for habitual motor vehicular offenders. Why not for habitual domestic abusers?

Mainers were stunned by the $5,000 fine and nine month’s in jail for Eliot Cutler in a plea deal for charges of downloading 83,780 child pornography files that included an adult man raping a girl as young as 4, according to state police. But check out the court reports of your local paper and time after time you will see such ludicrously low fines for the violent assault of a girlfriend or wife. How about higher fines that feed directly into the state victim’s fund so that, for instance, when someone’s intimate partner beats them up, all medical costs and not just three-quarters are covered?

On July 25, 13 survivors gathered with Gov. Janet Mills in the State House for the ceremonial signing of a bill initiated by Finding Our Voices that restricts the release of domestic abusers from an early release program in Maine’s jails, and also strengthens notification efforts of this release to victims. Dezarae Caron of Auburn testified in support of this bill in April before the Legislature, and three months later she stood directly behind the governor as our governor ceremonially signed this bill into law. “I never thought I could be a part of anything like that,” she told me afterward. “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.”

Good thing, because in order for women and children to be safe in our state, there is a lot more that needs to be done.