The Star-Herald

Looking out for our neighbors during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Everyone deserves a safe place to call home — a place where we can be ourselves, relax, and feel accepted and loved. The sad truth is that for many people across our state, this is not a reality. Domestic abuse is a scourge that impacts people from all walks of life — men and women, rich and poor, old and young. 

In Maine, domestic violence accounts for nearly half of all murders committed every year. In 2018, a domestic violence assault was reported to law enforcement once every 2 hours and 22 minutes. As a guardian ad litem, I have seen first-hand the painful living environment too many young Mainers are forced to endure.

One of the tragic side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in domestic violence. As victims are home more, and away from work and school where signs of their abuse might be noticed, they’re in increased danger. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a timely reminder for all of us to look out for our neighbors, and do what we can to help Mainers who are struggling with domestic violence. 

Domestic abuse takes many forms beside physical violence. Abuse can be emotional — constantly putting down a person, making them doubt their own self-worth. Abusers also frequently control their victims by controlling their finances, by monitoring their spending, ruining their credit or even intentionally sabotaging employment. One of the most common signs of abuse is a victim distancing themselves from their support network. Abusers use this tactic to isolate their victims, or at least make them feel isolated. Keeping in contact with people we love can be one of the best ways to maintain that lifeline, for them to use when they’re most in need. To learn more about the signs of abuse and how you can help a friend or loved one out of an abusive situation, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence has a variety of helpful resources; you can find them online at www.mcedv.org.

In Augusta, my colleagues and I in the Legislature worked hard to make sure our state is doing all it can to help victims of abuse. Last year, we increased funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services in Maine — the first time funding for these programs had been increased in nearly two decades. We also worked on a bill to support those who work for the state’s computer crimes unit, often dealing with the most unthinkable violence against children, and another bill to create oversight for child protective services, with the intention of making sure no children fall through the cracks. The COVID-19 pandemic cut our legislative session short this year, but I am eager to continue this important work when we reconvene in just a few months.

In the fight against domestic abuse, there is always more work that needs to be done. I applaud all the dedicated social workers, advocates and volunteers who give their time and energy to help people in our community who are most in need. 

If you or someone you know needs help getting out of an abusive situation, you can call the statewide hotline at 1-866-834-HELP; people with hearing issues can call 1-800-437-1220. You can also go to www.mcedv.org to find resources. In Aroostook County, the Hope and Justice Project is available to help people create a plan, navigate the legal system, and offer any other support you might need; they can be reached at 207-764-2977, or via their 24-hour hotline at 1-800-439-2323. If you are the victim of abuse, I want you to know that none of the abuse you’re suffering is your fault, your safety and wellbeing are important, and help is available.

As always, if you have questions or need help with anything, you can reach me by email at Mike.Carpenter@legislature.maine.gov, on my cell at (207) 532-8197 or by calling my office at (207) 287-1515.

Sen. Mike Carpenter, D-Houlton, represents Maine Senate District 2, which consists of central and southern Aroostook County and part of Penobscot County.

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