AUGUSTA — Holding up photos of her bruised and battered face, Sare Collman told lawmakers Wednesday that she is a survivor and urged them to support a bill that would help others survive, too.

Collman was one of dozens of people who turned out at the State House to support a bill that would provide $5 million in state funding to support nonprofit organizations that help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“This was me, four and half years ago,” Collman said holding up the photos. “I was with a man who told me he loved me but would beat me severely on a weekly basis, if not daily. I couldn’t work with a broken nose and two black eyes. I had so many excuses about why I looked the way I did that I just didn’t leave the house anymore.”

Collman said her abuse came to an end after her abuser was arrested and charged with domestic violence assault and aggravated assault, after he held her against her will for three days in 2015 beating her frequently during that time.

In a police affidavit detailing the arrest, Collman said she didn’t leave her abuser because she couldn’t get away.

“I wanted to leave, badly, but I had become so weak and scared that when he told me I couldn’t live without him and would be nothing and have no one, I believed it,” Collman told the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, addresses the crowd at a State House rally Wednesday in support of a bill that would provide $5 million in state funding for organizations that support survivors and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Press Herald photo by Scott Thistle

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, would be the first increase in state funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and supports since 2000, according to advocates for the measure.

In the last 10 years, according to information provided by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, state support for the programs has actually been reduced from $1.6 million for domestic violence and $698,811 for sexual assault agencies in 2009 to $1 million and $579,273, respectively in 2019.

Elizabeth Ward Saxl, executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the increased funds would help draw down critical federal matching money at a time when demand for services for victims of both domestic violence and sexual assault is at an all-time high.

The funding would be split among eight organizations that provide a range of services for survivors, including counseling, support in the legal system, emergency shelter and guidance for employment and education. The organizations also operate 24-hour hotlines and run educational programs to build awareness and prevent domestic and sexual violence for all age groups.

“Three-quarters of teachers who host sexual assault prevention educators in their classrooms have observed changes in students’ understanding of the issues,” Ward Saxl said.

Francine Stark, the executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, spoke at a rally before the bill hearing.

“I’m tired of asking for resources, I’m tired of asking for change, I’m tired of having to bring survivors in front of groups of people to tell their stories,” Stark said. “We shouldn’t have to do this. We all know this is a problem that is big. But this is a problem that we can solve because we can do anything if we decide that it is that important.”

Stark said it wasn’t a question of whether the state could find $5 million to support the programs. “The question is whether or not the public policy of the state of Maine is centered on basic human rights,” she said.

The legislation is among several measures aimed at improving the response to domestic violence while addressing the needs of survivors. On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee voted 11-1 to support a bill that would add a definition of economic abuse to Maine’s domestic violence laws, providing survivors with economic relief by protecting their credit rating from debts incurred by their abusers in their name.

Both bills will face additional scrutiny and votes in the Legislature in the days ahead.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog