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Into the light

Window exhibit brings awareness to domestic abuse

By Christine Dunkle | Apr 08, 2020
Photo by: Patrisha McLean Owner Sondra Hamilton stands outside Zoot Coffee in Camden between banners promoting Patrisha McLean’s Finding Our Voices domestic abuse-awareness campaign. McLean is featured in the poster on the left, Mary Lou Smith on the right.

A stay-at-home order and coronavirus closings are taking their toll on all of us, but none more so than victims of domestic violence. Photojournalist Patrisha McLean of Camden has taken her Finding Our Voices domestic abuse awareness campaign outside — splashing banners across Midcoast storefront windows throughout April and May.

“I knew it had to be big, big and bold, so you can’t miss it when driving around,” McLean said. Domestic abuse survivors stand loud and proud on 2-by-4-foot banners in the street-facing windows of establishments in Camden, Rockport and Rockland, sharing information about their experiences and also the 24/7 helpline number of New Hope for Women (1-800-522-3304).

“All this shutting down puts [victims] in more danger,” McLean said. “I don't like to hear people pin the increased danger on the abuser being more stressed, because these guys don’t need a reason — they are abusive and angry in the best of circumstances.”

With the social isolation, financial strain, and cutbacks to court and advocacy services, McLean had to get even more creative in broadcasting resource information to victims. “They can’t knock on a friend’s door. If they’ve been saving money to leave and lost their job, they are cut off,” she said. “It is the perfect storm. Already, almost half the homicides in Maine are acts of domestic violence, and year after year that number doesn’t budge. It is scary to think the number will finally budge, but way upward.”

Windows are an appropriate venue, McLean said, because support needs to come out of the dark bathrooms where domestic violence information is usually displayed. “There is absolutely a place for resources in bathrooms because victims will not take information if they are with their abuser. It is important to bring the issue itself out of the dark into the light because let the abuser hang his head in shame. Everyone needs to know how pervasive, and insidious and dangerous this is,” she said. “It is all around us, we need to open our eyes to it. Victims need to know they are not alone, the community stands beside them, and help is available.”

Because coronavirus canceled Finding Our Voices presentations in Glastonbury, Conn. and Millinocket and put a planned May exhibit at Camden’s Zoot Coffee in jeopardy, McLean first had the idea to put the banners in empty storefront windows. When that didn’t pan out, she turned to operating storefronts, but thought there was no way a business would spare such valuable and limited space, when many do not even display 8-by-10 flyers.

Zoot owner Sondra Hamilton has known McLean for years, having hired her daughter when the shop opened 14 years ago.

“For this reason alone, I would do more for Pat than hang a few banners in my windows,” Hamilton said. “Expressing compassion and solidarity for victims of domestic violence is not a choice but a responsibility. The most important role for a coffee shop is to make all people feel like they have a safe place, a kind of home.”

Still, two banners at Zoot was not a campaign, so McLean’s plan didn’t seem like it could happen. But while walking home, she stopped at The Village Shop and owner Alyce Boynton was quick to say “Yes!,” believing it is imperative that this issue be addressed.

With her hope restored, McLean took her request around to more and more business owners. All said and done, she has 50 businesses on board (see below for locations). The banners feature 21 different survivors from all over Maine, so viewers may come across doubles and some triples.

“Once they knew what it was about, they were happy to help,” she said. Considering what they all are dealing with during the quarantine, many seriously suffering with lack of sidewalk traffic and now closed doors, McLean was heartened at the "amazing, beautiful response." Not to mention store owners scrambling to make hanging arrangements on short notice after Gov. Mills' order last week.

Sarah Anderson of French & Brawn told McLean, "I support this cause greatly," while accepting a banner. Janice Esancy, Randy Gagne and Nikki Maounis were all on board to emblazoning the Camden town office, police station and public library, respectively.

Camden National Bank President Greg Dufour told McLean while they don’t usually put up outside posters, this is a stressful time that could put some people in harm’s way, and requested banners for all three Midcoast bank branches.

“We admire the brave women, led by Patrisha McLean, who are willing to come forward to share their stories and help other victims,” Dufour said.

“My heart is bursting from the incredible support that flooded in from our Midcoast community and is flooding in still, with people reaching out every day to ask for banners for their store windows,” McLean said. The banners are funded by a social justice grant from the Deborah Pulliam Foundation and designed by CJ Kenna from Camden.

Finding Our Voices began as a multimedia exhibit, combining McLean’s portrait photography with audio recordings of survivors telling their stories, half of whom live in the Midcoast. The show kicked off Valentine’s Day 2019 at the Camden Public Library.

“Men, some women, but mostly men, get and maintain power and control over their partner through a series of of set tactics,” McLean said, explaining a graphic element of the project that has each woman highlight sections of a power and control wheel that pertain to the person who abused them, and then add their specific experiences. “It is quite striking, the similarities. The abusers are from different socio-economic demographics and the details of the abuse differ, but pimp, professor or famous singer, these guys are all fundamentally the same.”

Since the rollout last year, the project has gained momentum and even gone beyond local media attention. The New York Times wrote an article, and FOV was featured on television shows, such as “207.” As a traveling exhibit, it also spent three months at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta.

“It is getting a crucial conversation going,” McLean said.

The exhibit began with 14 survivor-participants. McLean said they range from 18-year-old Sydney from Camden, who had a controlling high school boyfriend, to 80-year-old Mary Lou from Scarborough, whose University of Southern Maine professor husband terrorized their family for 45 years. "Her message is 'It’s never too late to leave,’” McLean said.

McLean said all the women continue to stand with her and be a part of the exhibit, no matter where it goes or how much press it gets. “They all say, ‘I’m with you,’” she said. “They’re like, ‘Go big or go home.’ We are a solid and growing sisterhood.”

She appreciates how Camden has been an incubator for the Finding Our Voices projects, where the community is so supportive, loving and generous. The group is now a pending nonprofit and held its first board meeting last week. One of the board members is Alexandra Lawrence from Rockport.

Going forward, McLean sees this Midcoast window event as a template to carry around the whole state, community by community, gathering more survivors who will step up and break their silence to be banner subjects, inspiring victims to safely leave and helping all survivor/victims to heal.

“I would love to see that happen. There are so many women carrying this toxic load that should be lifted, and it’s not fair that they do it alone. This is a societal problem,” McLean said. “We need to break the cycle — shame for the perpetrator, not the victim.”

For more information and Finding Our Voices stories, visit New Hope for Women offers support and resources 24/7 at its helpline at 1-800-522-3304.



Camden —

Camden Town Office

Camden Police Station

Camden Public Library

French and Brawn

Camden National Bank

Long Grain

Warner Graphics

Camden Law

First National Bank

Camden Antique Marketplace

Colin Page Gallery

Barefoot in Denim

Boynton McKay

Once a Tree

House of Logan


Village Shop

Zoot Coffee

Thomas Michaels Designers

Cutting Edge

Maine Sport

Margo Moore

Adventure Advertising

Global Packing and Shipping

Christine's Framing

Bubbles and Bean


Serendipity Fine Consignment

Megunticook Market

Camden Clothesline

PAWS Animal Adoption Center


Rockport —

Maine Weddings and Events

Rayr Wines

Peter Ralston Gallery

Nina June

Tim Whelan Books

18 Central

Union Hall

Bay Chamber

Rayr Wines

Fresh Off the Farm


Rockland —

Camden National Bank

Rock City Coffee

Strand Theatre

Archipelago store and gallery

Atlantic Baking Company

Green With Envy

Distinctive Tile

Grasshopper Shop


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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Apr 09, 2020 13:10

God Bless and now Hope for the abused!

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