CAMDEN — You see them, they are impossible to miss. The women in the windows. They peer into the community from the large posters they adorn. Each has a name, and a story to tell. Their mere presence on the posters indicates they have told that story.

They are survivors of domestic violence and they have found their voices.

According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual or physical violence, or stalking, by an intimate partner. MCEDV also reports that 1.5 million high school students nationwide will experience physical abuse from a dating partner. In Maine, 8.6 % of high school students report physical violence from a dating partner.

In Maine middle schools, nearly 18% of students report that physical violence, or the threat of physical violence, has caused them to leave their home, if only temporarily.

Nationally, 1 in 15 children live in a home where one adult is abusive to the other. Of these children, 90% are eyewitnesses to the violence. Of the children who eyewitness domestic violence, 1 in 3 report being physically abusive themselves.

Domestic violence is systemic and generational.

The women in the windows are part of a tour de force to break that cycle.

Finding Our Voices is a courageous campaign that features the faces, and voices, of women survivors of domestic abuse. The posters are supported by an impressive multi-media program designed to educate Maine communities about the prevalence and impact of domestic violence.

The campaign is the brainchild of Camden’s Patrisha McLean. McLean is a survivor of domestic abuse. As she attempted to move forward with her life, McLean began hearing from friends with stories of their own domestic violence.

“I had so many people come up to me and tell me the same thing had happened to them,” she said. “I found out my best friend was in domestic abuse and her daughter was in domestic abuse. None of us knew.”

A trip to McLean’s hairdresser resulted in a renewed purpose.

“My hairdresser put her hand on my shoulder and told me she knew what I was going through,” said McLean. “She also said that she had always wanted to tell her story.”

McLean is also a talented photojournalist. She conceived the idea of photographing women survivors of domestic abuse and putting the on posters, along with their first name and a brief description of the abuses they suffered.

Gradually more and more women began reaching out to McLean, wanting their stories told and the Finding Our Voice project took flight. In February 2019, the first 14 women survivor portraits were unveiled at the Camden Public Library, along with a multi-media feature that allowed patrons to hear their stories of abuse over their cell phones.

“From there it just began gathering momentum,” McLean said. I began hearing from more and more women who wanted to tell their stories or have me do their portraits. At first, it was an exhibit, the posters came next.”

To date 44 different women have been photographed for Finding Our Voices as the movement begins to evolve.

McLean facilitates an online book club around domestic violence with friend Mary Lou Smith. She is also the host of a podcast and WERU radio show featuring conversations with survivors of domestic abuse.

“There’s a conspiracy of silence around domestic abuse,” McLean said. “It’s not just the women not talking about it. No one talks about it. Family, friends, law enforcement, the courts, it’s systemic.”

As more and more domestic violence survivors come forward Finding Our Voices has hosted panel discussions at community centers and schools. Finding Our Voices has a website where those faced with domestic abuse can find help, and their voice. McLean is currently working on programs with schools, and a prison-based program with a dating abuse website/survey on tap soon.

What McLean doesn’t have are plans to slow any momentum.

“What we’re planning is endless,” she said. “We need volunteers, hands and hearts, to keep us moving forward. To keep the momentum.”

In 2020 advocates from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence worked with 12,516 people statewide. From that group only 612 found safety in a Domestic Violence Resource Center, pointing bluntly to the gaps in the current system.

For now, the women in the windows stand watch over Maine communities. They remind us that while October is domestic violence awareness month, every month should be. Their silence belies the voices they have found. They stand as an example to everyone, man or woman, to speak up and speak out. To find their own voice.

For more information or assistance contact the Statewide Domestic Abuse Helpline 1-866-834-HELP, or contact Finding Our Voices log on to findingourvoices.net.