I walk into the district court in Rockland, place keys and cellphone in the plastic bowl, step through the metal detector, and answer “No” to being exposed to COVID. Then the burly officer lifts up a white “gun” and puts it to my head.

When I tell the officer how uncomfortable the fever scanner applied this way makes me feel he says, “It makes me uncomfortable to do it, too,” especially because he has elsewhere seen it pointed at the wrist, but doing it like this “is orders from on high.”

Apparently, monitoring fever in the Knox County courthouse is no longer done in this clueless way since I posted about it on Facebook. But how many women crossing the scary threshold of seeking protection against the violent individual terrorizing them at home were greeted in the courthouse by a man pointing an object shaped like a gun to their heads.

Welcome to the upside-down world of domestic abuse in Maine, where year after year nearly half of all homicides are as a result of it, as well as countless police stand-offs, lock-downs and evacuations in neighborhood streets, schools and businesses, and yet everyone who can do something to fix it seems deaf, dumb and blind to the emergency.

In the year of COVID-19, Finding Our Voices has been getting out word about the enduring pandemic of domestic abuse through huge downtown business window banners featuring 32 Maine women who — unlike Rhonda Pattelena, who on March 26 was killed in broad daylight on one of the most beautiful beaches in Maine by her “boyfriend” — are alive to tell the tale of being terrorized by someone with whom they had the misfortune to fall in love.

Last month in Lewiston we put up our 1,000th banner.

I take the banners around myself — sometimes accompanied by a friend — and from what men and women tell me in nail salons to auto parts stores from Eastport to Kittery, no other crime damages more people in Maine than domestic abuse.

Here are some dispatches from the field:

In Knox County, a woman calls police after her sister tells her on the phone that her boyfriend is about to kill her, and the boyfriend tells police he was the aggressor, yet the victim is the one arrested, charged and convicted for domestic abuse.

A man beats up his pregnant girlfriend. He has a previous charge of beating up another girlfriend. While on probation for the violent assault of the pregnant girlfriend, he is charged with beating up on girlfriend/victim number three, and the baby who was in the womb of the girlfriend/victim number two is handed over to the repeat offender every week for court-ordered visitation, in the “reunification” phase toward him gaining full custody of this child. (I saw the court files myself on both of the above cases, and also talked with a principal party.)

A domestic abuser violates his condition of release and is fined $300. He violates it again and is fined $300. He violates it again and is fined $300. (This is straight out of the court report in The Camden Herald.)

More and more women from all over Maine are telling me how their abusers, court filing by court filing, are robbing them of custody of their children because the women cannot afford a lawyer due to the financial abuse that is present in just about every situation of intimate terrorism, while the abusive man has the money to lawyer-up.

Week after week, in Knox County and also other jurisdictions from which Facebook friends send me newspaper clippings, “dismissed” appears after charges against violent domestic abusers as though it is the last name of a big — and emboldened— happy family of men who are getting away with everything short of murder.

The release last week of a 20-year Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel retrospective reiterated that almost half of all homicides remain a result of domestic abuse (see page 5).

At the press conference, Governor Janet Mills related having a gun held to her head by a “handsome, charming, intelligent” man with whom she was in love. “This administration is committed to preventing domestic violence,” she said. “To protecting survivors, to creating a criminal justice system that serves and respects all victims of crime.”

Our former governor Paul LePage was also vocal about the domestic abuse in his home growing up, telling the Bangor Daily News, “It is because of my past that I am very passionate about this.”

Two Maine governors who are passionate about the issue because of experiencing the terror and horror of it themselves, and still nothing changes. Why?

When I asked a lawyer why he recommended to his client that she accept a puff-ball plea deal for the ex-husband who almost killed her, he said after a pause, “Maybe institutional bias”: The sentencing bar has been so low for so long in Maine for domestic abusers he has lost sight of how wrong this is.

Maybe another reason nothing changes in Maine is because the system works great for everyone in it except for the victim — the perpetrators certainly benefit from kiss-on-the-cheek sentencing, but so do the lawyers and judges and Guardian Ad Litems for whom the money keeps flowing because men keep terrorizing their intimate partners, and District Attorneys benefit because plea deals are chalked up as wins for their office.

Here is my short list of what needs to happen in Maine to finally make a dent in the mayhem and murder in bedrooms and kitchens all across the state:

Tougher sentencing for perpetrators and the end of deferred disposition plea deals for violent domestic abusers where they plead guilty to a charge and with a year of good behavior that charge is wiped from their record, leaving no warning to future targets of the charming sociopath; mandatory survivor-centric DV-education for every professional handling domestic abuse, including judges; a review of how and why women victims of abuse are actually being arrested and charged themselves with the domestic abuse.

We need to stop coddling perpetrators and start helping the victim, with much more and homier emergency and transitional housing as well as other services including therapy and money to get back on their feet. We need courts and everyone working in the legal arena to recognize that abuse to the mother is abuse to the child and also that coercive control, aka emotional abuse, is a crime.

The Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel findings, released last week to much fanfare, stated that the key to change is “accountability.” Yes, accountability for the perpetrators, for sure, and this must include meaningful jail time, but also accountability for people in a position to do something about the figurative (and sometimes literal) blood running through the homes, businesses, and streets of Maine, who year after year may pay lip service, but do nothing about it.