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Patrisha McLean, domestic abuse survivor and former wife of singer/songwriter Don McLean, never intended on sharing her story publicly. When she filled out a statement in January 2016 to petition for a protective order against her husband of 29 years, she didn’t expect it to be splashed across the front page of the Bangor Daily News the next day.
“My statement that I thought was private and just very personal—about the secrets that I had kept for 29 years—all of a sudden, I woke up and it was in the paper,” she says. “It was one of the most devastating things that ever happened to me.”
But then something surprising happened.
“It changed my life—in a positive way—because now, everybody knew. I could no longer hide it even to myself,” she says.
And she realized she wasn’t alone taking on the new label of “survivor.”
“People in my community started to come up to me and say, ‘I was there, too. That happened to me.’ It was the strangest thing, because it was like a veil was lifted and now I saw what was all around me but I had never known it was all around me.”
Patrisha recognized a need for change.
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“I saw firsthand that there were so many of us going through similar things and none of us knew it, and I just like, this has to end. We need to start talking about this.”
Launching Finding Our Voices
Patrisha decided to put her background as a photojournalist to use to shed light on domestic abuse in her hometown of Camden, Maine. She put together an exhibit that went on display at the local library on Feb. 14, 2019. Finding Our Voices featured photographs of 14 women with audio recordings of their stories and a power and control wheel they each customized to highlight the ways in which they were abused.
Women from all walks of life were represented. The youngest, 18, was a college student. The oldest survivor, 80, didn’t escape her abuser until she was 65.
“My whole thing is we’re not covering up faces,” she says. “What we are all about is just getting rid of shame. We’re coming out from the shadows, we’re standing up loud and proud, and letting the abusers hang their heads in shame. We’ve got nothing to be ashamed about.”
The fact that 14 women (and later more) came forward to share their stories was moving to Patrisha. She didn’t recruit anyone; they all asked to participate after hearing about the project.
Bringing It Out in the Community
The exhibit was so successful that Patrisha decided to take it on tour around the state with a three-month stop at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center. She then decided to bring her message out into an even more public setting. She had four-foot banners made of each survivor—21 women now—calling out a powerful quote from their story, such as, “He killed my dog” and “The emotional abuse was harder.” Each banner includes the phone number for the local domestic abuse center, New Hope for Women in Rockland, Maine. In April 2020, the banners were hung in storefronts along the town’s main street, with permission from store owners who were eager to participate.
“Fifty businesses all across our community have stepped up to do this,” Patrisha says. “It’s banks, it’s law firms, it’s super high-end design stores, art galleries, clothing stores, restaurants, cafes—I can’t even believe the outpouring of support.”
Patrisha says she hopes the banners will open people’s eyes to what’s going on behind closed doors.
“We are in a small town, so you see your neighbor, you see people you know like, wow, I never knew that,” Patrisha says. “The more that people see just how many in our community who’ve gone through this, it really helps to get out how pervasive this is.”
Hearing others’ stories of abuse can help survivors know they’re not alone. Read our Survivor Stories and you’ll see domestic violence can happen to anyone.
Photo Credit: Christina Wnek
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