February 19, 2019
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Bangor must do more to combat domestic violence

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

The Queen City of Maine is having her own Me Too moment. As the women on Bangor’s City Council, we can no longer continue down this path without making the changes our community has needed for decades.

Bangor is engaged in a 10-year contract with Waterfront Concerts, whose owner, Alex Gray, last year pled guilty to a domestic violence charge. We share the serious concerns that this contract has raised here and throughout the state. Finding the right path forward will be key to our city’s success.

The world-class shows that Waterfront Concerts bring to Bangor have greatly benefited the city economically. A flat-out termination of our contract with Waterfront Concerts would be considered a breach of contract; we would lose their concert infrastructure and the ability to have Live Nation concerts. Live Nation holds contracts with the largest share of touring acts in the world.

[Opinion: Women aren’t to blame for men’s violence. Instead, we should expect more from men.]

Breaking our contract also would have a severe impact on our credibility to hold any contracts, threatening further negotiations with anyone in the future. It would possibly result in a lawsuit for damages. The city could be on the hook for all of Waterfront Concerts’ projected losses over the term of the 10-year contract, which would likely be seven figures.

Real change will not come from breaking our contract with Waterfront Concerts. Real change will come from implementing policies that address domestic violence. Instead of engaging in a long legal battle, we must develop a domestic violence policy and training for city employees.

The state of Maine saw the effects that this violence was having on the workplace. Mandated training for all state employees was developed. The two-hour training digs deep to educate about why and how domestic violence happens. It teaches an understanding of and how to best recognize dangers, and how to most effectively help a person stay safe. It sets up employees to think critically. These effects can go beyond the workplace and help reduce assaults in the community.

It also has been suggested that we should inquire further into job applicants’ or potential city contractors’ criminal backgrounds. This standardized question targeting people with criminal convictions has been shown to further stigmatize marginalized groups and increase racial discrimination. This would in no way be effective in reducing assaults, and it is something we cannot support. What we can do is update our bid process by asking about a company’s domestic violence policy and have that factor into our future contract decisions.

[Opinion: I’m a domestic violence investigator. It’s the small victories that keep me going.]

Additionally, we will lend a voice to this issue by raising awareness and working to improve our policies at City Hall with professionals and members of our community who work in the fields of domestic violence and sexual assault.

In 2017, the Bangor Police Department responded to 676 reported incidents of domestic violence and 181 individuals were arrested and charged. So far this year, Bangor police have responded to 87 reported incidents of domestic violence, with nearly half ending in arrests. Domestic violence is the result of someone in a relationship, almost always a man, believing they have the right to hold power and control over their partners. Many stay in abusive relationships because of a lack of economic security and they do not want to risk losing custody of their children.

We need a serious shift in our culture.

Erica Cole, Gray’s former girlfriend, sharing her story is brave. It identifies a systemic statewide and nationwide problem, showing Bangor’s own failings to address this issue. We hear the call for action. We can and must do more to address domestic violence in our city. It is OK to be angry; we are angry, too. The path forward involves strong policies with real change.

Sarah Nichols and Laura Supica are Bangor city councilors. Councilor Clare Davitt contributed to this column.

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