An advocate at Through These Doors works at the resource center and support group for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The organization's hotline reported more calls in March as the coronavirus brought increased isolation, which can exacerbate abuse situations. Credit: Courtesy Through These Doors

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If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TTY 1-800-437-1220. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

Greg Dufour is president and CEO of Camden National Bank.

As fall fades into winter in Maine, and the number of COVID-19 cases grows, the public health crisis threatens that we all could be house-bound once again. For most of us, home is a safe place to be, but there is a growing population of Mainers who don’t feel the same.

I am not an authority on the topic of domestic violence, and that made me feel a bit hesitant to publicly speak about this. But after some internal debate, I believe — and I hope you do too — that if my words can change even one outcome, it will be worth it. Over the past several months, I’ve learned that this nationwide problem often goes undiscussed due to stigma and fear. While I certainly feel it’s best to let the experts lead the way, I do believe that together we can provide a hopeful platform to talk openly and help those in trouble to seek safety.

In the United States, 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner. In Maine, law enforcement agencies statewide get a domestic violence call every 2 hours and 22 minutes, on average. And throughout the pandemic — especially during Maine’s stay-at-home order when schools, public service buildings and many workplaces went virtual — things got worse. Our state’s domestic violence agency hotlines reported a wild 145 percent spike in emails, texts, and secure chats messages seeking help, according to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

As the leader of one of Maine’s largest banks with 650 employees, we too have witnessed firsthand how domestic violence impacts individuals in our own work community. Over the years, our human resources department has taken key steps to support any employee that needs help. Through confidential programs, we’ve helped get some out of unsafe home environments, we’ve hired security guards at bank locations and we’ve connected employees with local agencies and legal resources. Through our Hope@Home program, we’ve also provided more than a half million dollars to homeless shelters, many of which are safe homes and women’s shelters. I’m very proud of the framework of support we’ve developed — but it is time that we deepen our impact and understanding of this pervasive problem.

When Patrisha McLean, whose son grew up with mine, approached me this past spring about the dangerous urgency of the situation, I knew I could help. McLean’s personal story of domestic abuse stirred the country — and our small midcoast community. The news shed light on the fact that domestic abuse can and does impact anyone, from neighbors, to family, coworkers and friends.

Camden National Bank became the first business to pledge significant financial assistance and ongoing strategic guidance to her newly formed domestic violence non-profit, Finding Our Voices. With its bold idea to launch a window banner campaign, our seed funding helped catalyze the effort and soon, more than 200 Maine businesses in 25 municipalities began displaying large posters in their storefronts. Familiar faces of Maine women aged 18 to 80, including college students, teachers, nurses, architects and business owners, were prominently displayed along Main Streets statewide. These 30-plus courageous women are telling their stories to encourage other victims to take the first step in breaking their silence. What started as a small, local effort has spread across the state.

Together, we are creating results. Local agencies, including New Hope for Women in Rockland, say that as a result of the posters, more women are calling the hotlines and coming forward for help. Some women have said that for the first time, they saw a reflection of themselves in a place where they least expected it. Others have said they found strength seeing an everyday business taking a stand.

As we navigate an uncertain future together this winter, it’s vital that we check in on family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Make sure they know they’re not alone, and that there are local resources and hotlines that can help.