WATERVILLE, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage urged Mainers to take a stand against domestic violence and sexual assault at an event at the Waterville Grand Hotel on Wednesday evening.
LePage, his wife, Major Gen. John Libby of the Maine National Guard and others spoke at the Maine Military and Community Network Prevention and Intervention Leadership Training on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
“It’s a social problem that we the men need to step up and eradicate it,” said LePage. “It can only be eradicated if we make it socially unacceptable in all venues.”
LePage noted the date, June 6, in Winslow when Nathaniel Gordon chased down and shot his wife to death before killing himself. Just a week later, Steven Lake shot and killed his wife and two children in Dexter.
“It was a tough day in June in this area [and] a [week] later, it was up in Dexter,” LePage said. “Fifty percent of the homicides in the state of Maine this year have been [because of] domestic violence. Maine is a very, very safe state, we know that. If 50 percent of homicides are caused from domestic violence, we have to stand up against it. This [meeting] is a start.”
Members of different military branches in Maine as well as members of the public were on hand at the meeting hosted by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Maine Military and Community Network.
Statistics provided by the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault said 42.4 percent of females and 46.9 percent of male sexual assault victims who called Maine’s sexual assault crisis and support line in 2009 were under the age of 18.
“As a mom, this statistic particularly disturbed me,” said first lady Ann LePage, who has made working with military families her No. 1 initiative.
Gov. LePage said education on domestic and sexual violence should start at younger ages.
“We need to go to our colleges and our high schools to get them involved. The earlier that we eradicate it in the minds of our kids, the faster we eradicate domestic violence,” he said.
Although domestic violence is a statewide problem, the military was an area of focus for the discussion.
Libby has made domestic violence a top concern.
“There is no excuse [for domestic violence],” he said. “[Lepage] called upon the Cabinet and our veterans, in particular the male members of our Cabinet and the veterans organizations, to be spokespersons against domestic violence.”
Col. Jack Mosher, director of operations for the Maine National Guard, said he has seen steps taken to deal with sexual violence in the military.
“In 1989, there was no support system at all. You just had deal with it and move on. It’s just part of being a soldier,” said Mosher, who started his service 22 years ago. “Hopefully we’ve moved past that now.”
LePage cited numbers from the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault that state 87 percent of victims and survivors who called Maine’s sexual assault and crisis support line were women.
“We stand up to say there’s no room for it and we ask that you join us in this fight against domestic violence,” said LePage.
Meeting organizer Lt. Jasmine Cain, Maine National Guard sexual assault response coordinator, was pleased to have LePage speak at the meeting and bring awareness to the cause.
“I’m really glad he was able to come do this,” said Cain. “He did a radio address in August about the same time we were planning this. They accepted right away. He and the first lady have been really big supporters.”
Norman Pacholski, Alternate State SARC Maine Victim Advocate, said it’s important to attack the problem collectively.
“We know it’s happening, so let’s all collaborate together between these organizations [to solve the problem,” he said.
A Boston improv group called Improv Asylum performed for the meeting to lighten the mood of a serious topic.