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Miss Maine pageant winners share a platform and a desire to educate

As survivors of child sexual abuse, the two hope to educate and raise awareness about the issue.

MAINE, USA — They won their titles last June — Mariah Larocque is Miss Maine, and Lauren Jorgensen is Miss Maine’s Outstanding Teen. They are also survivors of child sexual abuse. Through their platform, they are dedicated to raising awareness around the issue.

207 talked with these two young women, who represent the changing role of pageant winners, and who see their work as a job.

"I’m really glad we’ve kind of moved into a direction where we look at it that way because it really is way more than that one moment that most people see or think of when they think of pageantry," Mariah said. "This is way more than a crown that sits on your head and a sash that goes over your shoulder. It’s a 365-day job and you’re usually driving a lot, you’re working on your social impact initiative, you’re working with local legislation, you’re working in community settings. It’s really way more of a job than it is just a crown." 

She continued, "For years now, these women have done all they can to be authentic and raw and real when talking with people about what this job entails. So we’ve actually had to earn this understanding and get people to kind of come on board that we are change-makers. We are boots on the ground working in our respective initiatives trying to make change and be good representatives for our state."

Lauren Jorgensen, 18, is Miss Maine’s Outstanding Teen, a sister program that allows teens to learn more about the Miss Maine program.

Lauren described the program this way. "You have to have a social impact initiative, you have to have a talent, and just have the confidence to put yourself out there. It’s a great opportunity to learn and grow at such a young age."  

They share a platform they want to work on this year: child sexual abuse. Both are survivors. We talked about what it’s taken for them to get to where they've done some hard work around their healing, and are ready to help others.

"As a 26-year-old young woman, it has taken me a very long time to go through my own process and that’s something that is personal for each survivor," Mariah said. "It took me a long time to do internal healing and a lot of that growth to find my voice again. Because I think that’s something that often happens with survivors they lose their voice and it does take an incredible amount of hard work to regain the ability to plant yourself again. And reclaim your voice." 

Lauren put it this way. "I was under five years old when I was sexually assaulted and I didn't even realize I was sexually assaulted until I was eleven. I went to the classes as a child where they teach you about saying no, and your private parts and your bathing suit area and it never clicked for me. And I truly feel that education is a huge step in ending sexual assault. And I think having this platform has allowed me to find the importance of educating. Because I think we need to be more detailed and really take the time to make sure no matter where you are in our state, in our country, that you are getting the education that you need to protect yourself from sexual assault."

What do they hope to accomplish during their year? 

Lauren wants to focus on education. "Personally I see this whole year as a jump-off point to my future. And, I think part of that is using this time to kind of make my dream come true of passing a law within each state, each county that says that teaching about sexual assault within schools is mandatory. That’ll be a huge step in ending sexual assault."

"I have this amazing opportunity now to work with some local legislation to actually pass a law that makes grooming an illegal act that can be punished," Mariah said. "It currently does not exist. In my situation, I was sexually assaulted by a middle school teacher of mine, and I went through a grooming process and a lot of people don’t know what the grooming process is."

Grooming is when someone builds a relationship with a child so the child can be exploited and abused.  

What are some of the signs that parents or teachers might look for if a child does not seem to be his or herself? 

Mariah offered this: "Some of the biggest signs people can look for is if a child starts to withdraw in a way that is unusual to you. It can be really hard to identify when these things are going on. But the only way that we will ever be able to understand it is if we are aware of it."

Lauren encourages conversation. "It’s important to sit down with your kids, your friends, your family members and talk about sexual assault. Just open up the conversation, because you never know what will come out of that."

Lauren said 95% of victims know the people who have abused them, which makes it so difficult to spot when something like this is happening.

Mariah has already written a script which she hopes to make into a film, based on the story of a young girl being taken advantage of by a teacher. Lauren will be heading off to college next fall. 

If you would like to learn more about the Miss Maine programs, click here