Big messages can be delivered in small packages.

Domestic abuse survivor and photojournalist Patrisha McLean is proving this as she employs the humble bookmark as a means of throwing a lifeline to women in Maine who find themselves in dangerous relationships.

McLean’s nonprofit, Finding Our Voices, has been bringing awareness to the issue of domestic violence with banners seen in store windows in 40 towns and cities in the state. Finding Our Voices has also organized art events including one coming up in June in Belfast. She does a radio show with WERU talking about the issue, has a book club, will soon have a podcast, and offers help to any who need it through the website

The newest tool in bringing resources to women in need comes in the form of bookmarks featuring 32 Maine survivors of domestic abuse and some of their stories along with information on how to get help, and a diagram of a “Power and Control” wheel that provides information to determine if you are in an unsafe relationship.

The bookmarks are scaled down versions of the banners that have been going up throughout the state of Maine to provide awareness.

McLean said the project started with her wanting to have some kind of gift or item she could send in letters to people. The shape of the banners leant itself to a bookmark, and since it was something that could be useful, it was likely to be kept around and provide ongoing information.

She talked to staff at the Camden Public Library and local police departments. Rockland Chief Chris Young loved the bookmarks as a form of outreach officers could provide on domestic abuse calls. He helped connect McLean with departments all over the state to assist in the effort.

McLean just received a shipment of 20,000 of the bookmarks, which she plans to offer to libraries, businesses, food pantries and agencies all over the state.

In addition, she is working on opening new doors in southern Maine, bringing posters and banners, large and small, to more cities and towns. Eventually, Finding Our Voices plans to have a poster in every restaurant bathroom in the state, which is one of the only places a woman in a controlling relationship can be alone and have a chance to view information her partner wouldn’t otherwise allow.

McLean said the problem is widespread in Maine, aided in part by a system that carries higher penalties for theft than for violent abuse of a domestic partner. She argues too many men are empowered to be violent by a court system in which domestic abuse cases are often dismissed.

At first, in approaching high-end stores and businesses with her banners, she said she felt awkward, but what she has found is that in places all over Maine, women have come up to her and said they too had experiences or had been impacted by domestic abuse.

During a filming segment with her daughter, a man running the camera, “this big guy,” McLean said, began to cry, saying his mother stayed with his father for the children, but her son had prayed she would leave the abuser.

These efforts have gotten people talking about the problem, which is an important step in a long journey to eliminating domestic violence. A big part of this is the courage shown by more than 30 women coming forward publicly to talk about their situations and even have their photos posted in businesses across Maine. In addition, 20 have gone on the record on her radio show talking about their experiences.

The outreach continues as local schools form Finding Our Voices clubs. McLean also plans to speak in a series of house parties in July and August to reach more people and begin raising funds for the organization.

The bookmarks have been made possible through donations from Hannaford Brothers and bestselling thriller author Tess Gerritsen of Camden.

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