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#WhyIStayed: Understanding Domestic Violence

On March 27th, 2014, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested and indicted for third-degree aggravated assault. He had punched his fiancee, Janay Palmer, in the face, knocking her unconscious. Shortly afterward the assault in February, a video of Ray Rice dragging Palmer out of an elevator was released by TMZ. I have not watched this video, or the one released on Monday, because of a tweet I was lucky enough to see on my feed:

Rice was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season, and the criminal charges were dropped. His contract with the Baltimore Ravens was not terminated until a video of him attacking Palmer in the elevator was released to the public this past Monday, at which point the Baltimore Ravens promptly tweeted that his contract had been terminated:

The NFL also decided, once the video had been shown to the public, to suspend Rice indefinitely. Part of their explanation for not taking more serious action when first aware of the assault was that they had not seen the video, which raises the serious question of why we feel it is necessary to see a video of domestic violence before we actually believe the survivor. As John Harbaugh, the coach of the Ravens, said, “It’s something we saw for the first time today. It changed things of course. It made things a little bit different.”

On top of the NFL and Ravens only caring about the abuse once the public had seen TMZ's video, the media and public began to ask questions about Janay Rice (née Palmer). Why did she marry Ray after that incident? Didn’t she antagonize him by slapping him in the elevator? Why did Janay apologize for “the role she played in that night” at a May press conference if she didn’t deserve it?

At this point, I want to remind the reader that one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and that black women are 35% more likely to suffer domestic violence than white women, and are also more likely to be killed by their partners and less likely to seek care such as social services, shelters, and hospital treatment.

So of the women consuming the media’s coverage of this incident, one in four has experience with abuse (a statistic that doesn’t even account for the many other survivors of domestic abuse who do not identify as female). These individuals have witnessed the masses blaming Janay Rice for marrying a man she knew was abusive, have heard them say that it was her fault for not leaving him and question what kind of person wouldn’t run away. Take a minute to consider how these survivors felt when they watched (just to take one example) the Fox & Friends segment in which a reporter stated that, “after that video, now we know what happened in there, she still married him” then goes on to mention Rihanna and Chris Brown, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Solange, “also in an elevator,” critiquing Rihanna and Janay’s choices not to leave as bad examples for children. They finish off with the offensive statement, “I think the message is, take the stairs.”

As a survivor of domestic violence, I can tell you that the first question I am usually asked is “Why didn’t you leave sooner?”

For me -- and I think for many other domestic violence survivors and victims -- there were two big reasons for not leaving “sooner”. Perhaps the most understandable to such critics is that I feared what would happen when I left. At least while in the relationship, I thought my partner loved me and I could cling to the briefer and briefer honeymoon stages in between abuse. If I left, there would be no honeymoons, and nothing stopping him from escalating the violence to the point of no return.

He said he would change. He promised it was the last time. I believed him. He lied. #WhyIStayed

— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014

(A tweet from Beverly Gooden, who started the #WhyIStayed twitter campaign.)

Women are most likely to be killed by current or former partners. 75% of those women are killed either when they try to leave or after they end the relationship.  I did not want to be one of them.

The second reason -- and I think the one that will be harder for critics to grasp -- is that I loved my partner. I had been groomed to think no one else would want me, and I was so grateful that someone could spare me any tenderness that I built my entire self-worth into times when he was kind and loving and wanted to marry me. In the darker parts of it, he would tell me, “If you really loved me, you would want to do this,” and I thought that it was a flaw in my ability to love, in my own ability to be a caring partner, that was hurting us both. I had watched my parents stuck in the same cycle, and I thought that that was what love was, that a lover’s perpetual disappointment in you was crucial to the sweetness that came after when they had, for a moment, forgiven you. Every time he apologized, and said it would never happen again, I really believed him, because I believed I could become good enough for him. It took me years after escaping the relationship to acknowledge the abuse, the rape, and the dysfunction.

(Beverly Gooden, who began #WhyIStayed, on loving her abuser.)

So the abused live in this dichotomy of fear and love, between believing that their partner really can change, and knowing that if they don’t, running away will be harder than staying.

We also stay for children, for fear of being homeless and ostracized, for fear of being judged by our communities, because the partners we loved threatened their own lives if we walked out. And because of all of this, and the immense lack of understanding on the part of media and friends and the general public, Beverly Gooden spoke out, beginning the #WhyIStayed twitter trend.

“I believe in storytelling. I believe in the power of shared experience. I believe that we find strength in community. That is why I created this hashtag. I hope those tweeting using #WhyIStayed find a voice, find love, find compassion, and find hope,” she says on her website about creating the hashtag.

So we began to tweet, and to share our experiences.

    Abuse is so often covert and victims are rarely able to speak out about their lives and experiences like this. Please read through #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft on Twitter in honor of the people who have been able to get out, the people who were killed, and the people still in the hands of abusive partners.



More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Feminism, Gender-based violence, Media, Misogyny, Sports, Violence against women
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Domestic violence, News, Television
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