CAMDEN, Maine — What started as a photo exhibit featuring survivors of domestic violence in Maine has grown into something bigger.
Three years after it was created, more than 40 women are portrayed on 20-thousand posters and bookmarks on display across the state.
The nonprofit organization "Finding Our Voices" said putting a face on domestic abuse is helping break the cycle and chip away at the stigma.
In a drama class at the Watershed School, a private high school in Camden, messages of strength and healing are on full display.
From Gov. Janet Mills to businesswomen, artists, teachers, and students, ages 18 to 81, all are survivors of domestic abuse. Freshman Avaline Fairhayden had a friend who struggled to get out of an abusive relationship.
"This is a real thing. This can happen to anybody," Avaline said.
"I feel it's really important to get a voice and raise awareness," sophomore Cooper McBride said.
Cooper and Avaline helped put up the posters created by the nonprofit. Portraits and quotes of 43 Maine women are displayed in more than 140 high schools and vocational schools across the state.
"They were under the deep cover of shame, misplaced shame, and they are so grateful they know they are not alone," Patrisha McLean, the founder of Finding Our Voices, explained.
Patrisha McLean is a photojournalist who started Finding our Voices as a small photo exhibit three years ago. Some of the original portraits, along with other survivors, are on display at the Camden Public Library through the end of March. The collection includes Sarah McLean, who runs a local shipping business.
She said it was hard to come forward publicly at first, but speaking out is helping others trying to get out of abusive relationships.
"The more people that know, the more people would have my back. I needed to know that I was safe in my own community. Clearly, I was not safe," McLean said.
More than 1,600 "Say Something" posters are displayed on storefronts in more than 65 cities and towns.
Around 20,000 bookmarks are in doctor's offices, libraries, and food pantries. All have domestic abuse helpline information, including a QR code that links to the Finding Our Voices website, with resources and stories from other survivors.
"Say Something" posters have also gone up in dressing rooms and employee break rooms in Goodwill retail stores, offices, and warehouses in Maine, New Hampshire, and Northern Vermont.
Patrisha also set her sights on getting posters in every restaurant in the state. Meanwhile, the powerful images have resulted in an increase in calls for assistance and helped victims get on the path to safer, more stable lives.
"They are talking to their children, mothers, and parents, breaking the cycle, and getting out," Patrisha added.
The Maine Statewide Crisis Hotline number is 1-888-568-1112.
For more information on domestic violence resources and programs, click here.