ELLSWORTH — College age when she followed her new boyfriend from Massachusetts to Cherryfield 15 years ago, now Meagan Graslie raises their two children alone in Ellsworth, after breaking free from what she said was 11 years of domestic abuse.
“I was in awe,” Graslie said of her feelings when she first met her ex-partner, who was 24 years her senior. “Most of the guys my age didn’t care about anything.”
That starry-eyed awe evaporated, she said, after their children, now ages 12 and 15, were born and his “aggressive behavior became more evident.” Graslie left with her children in 2016 after finally dialing 911 after he broke her hip, she said. She had already been speaking with NextStep Domestic Violence Project, which provides assistance and shelter for women in dangerous domestic situations in Hancock and Washington counties.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Graslie is lifting her voice to share her story.
“People have this image of a battered woman, but it’s not true,” she said while sitting at Flexit Café, where her artwork hangs on the exposed brick walls. “It’s your neighbor. It’s the person next door.”
In Ellsworth, the city Police Department fielded 106 calls reporting domestic violence in 2019, a number that has stayed level for the past three years, after jumping from 68 calls in 2016 and 87 in 2015. Domestic violence assault arrests ranged from 18 to 23 annually since 2015, with the number not reported for 2019.
With domestic violence reportedly on the rise globally during the pandemic as families spent most or all of their time at home, those calls have risen in Hancock County, too.
“We have had more [domestic violence] cases in 2020 as the same period in 2019, and we are declining fewer cases,” Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster said. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 16, 2019, his office received 152 domestic violence cases and declined to prosecute 26. For the same period this year, the DA received 195 cases and declined 20.
The number of protection from abuse orders has also increased in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, with 22 requests received and three declined in 2019 compared to 29 cases received and two declined in 2020.
“I think that our record shows that my office prioritizes domestic violence cases and that we work very hard to ensure they are prosecuted as fully as possible,” Foster said.
Nationwide, one in four women and one in seven men have experienced “severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime,” according to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
For Graslie, her decision to leave came the day her daughter was struck while trying to intervene between Graslie and her partner.
“That was the line,” she said. “You can only be in denial for so long.”
She moved into a NextStep shelter in Washington County, on crutches from her broken hip.
While NextStep’s shelters aren’t housing more women during the pandemic, calls and electronic contacts have increased as much as threefold, with the nonprofit “offering support and safety planning assistance for more complex situations,” Executive Director Dorathy Martel said, noting 3,793 calls and 943 emails and texts between April 1 and Sept. 3. Safety planning can come in the form of a court-issued order of protection, leaving the home for a safe place or “waiting to see what happens.”
“Everyone’s circumstances are so different,” Martel said.
Graslie moved into transitional housing following her stay in the NextStep shelter, and now lives with her children in Ellsworth, where she is finishing up a bachelor’s degree in art therapy. If you think you or a loved one is suffering from domestic violence, contact NextStep at 800-799-7233 or, for TTY, 800-787-3224.