LEWISTON, Maine — More than 100 people huddled together Thursday night in the center of Kennedy Park to talk about something that is normally not discussed within the Somali community — sexual violence and what can be done about it.
“It’s not something we speak about openly,” said Fatuma Hussein, executive director of United Somali Women of Maine. “Specific to the Somali culture, it is a stigma.”
Because sexual crimes are not discussed, Hussein and others believe a number of assaults within that community go unreported. That’s got to stop, Hussein told the group. And it begins with admitting that there is a problem.
“First,” she said, “we must believe that it does happen here.”
The crowd that gathered in the park consisted mostly of women, but not entirely. There were plenty of men leaning in to listen.
Mayor Robert Macdonald came out to the park. So did police Chief Michael Bussiere, along with one of his lieutenants.
“We came to hear what they have to say and to support them,” Bussiere said. “Letting people know there are resources available to them is very important.”
Macdonald, a former police officer, explained to the group how rapes are investigated. He emphasized that there can be no investigation to begin with unless the assault is reported.
“If you are sexually assaulted, a crime has been committed against you,” the mayor said. “Please, if you are assaulted, call the police.”
Hussein said her group has been doing more work on domestic violence and over the past several years has focused on building sexual assault services. Legal help is available through the University of Maine School of Law, as is information on safety plans and protective orders.
“Violence against women is underreported in any immigrant and refugee community,” Hussein said. “We empower the victim; we give them all the options.”
United Somali Women of Maine is located at 265 Lisbon St., on the second floor. More information can be found at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault website.
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