Beverly Gooden is one of the few people on the Internet who hasn’t watched the graphic, grainy video of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Rice assaulting his wife (then fiance) Janay Palmer in an elevator. After all, she was in that situation herself four years ago. She knows what domestic violence looks like well enough not to need this disturbing reminder.
What got her blood boiling wasn’t this new video footage, but people’s response to it.
“The overwhelming tone was, ‘Why did she stay?'” Gooden, a human resources manager from Charlotte, N.C., told The Washington Post. “I felt that people just don’t realize, asking ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ is such a simple question for a very complex issue.”
Gooden should know. She survived a violent relationship with her college sweetheart, a man she describes as “attractive and talented, who could romance me and say all the right things,” but who regularly verbally and physically abused her.
Isolated from her family, feeling responsible for her husband’s anger and still desperately in love with the man she had met at school, it took her a year to realize that the relationship might kill her and another two months for her to plan her escape. She can understand why Palmer has stayed with the man who knocked her unconscious in an elevator in February — why she might have shouldered the blame for that violent incident. But as she saw it, the commenters on television and Twitter didn’t seem to.
So Gooden logged onto Twitter, and “almost without thinking,” she says, she typed three tweets in quick succession:
Once she started, she couldn’t stop. Gooden listed nearly a dozen reasons it took her a year to leave her ex-husband: “he said he would change”; “I thought love would conquer all”; “my pastor told me that God hates divorce.” She ended them all with “#WhyIStayed.” She wasn’t trying to justify remaining in an abusive relationship, she said, but to illuminate why it is so difficult for women to leave. The situations Palmer and Gooden found themselves in are all too common. The National Coalition for Prevention of Domestic Violence estimates that 25 percent of women experience intimate partner violence, and according to the National Domestic Abuse hotline,
for a victim to leave an abusive relationship. There are many reasons for this listed in the thousands of responses to Gooden’s “#WhyIStayed” campaign:
“People don’t realize that we’re asking the same question everyone else is asking. We’re wondering why we’re still there and why we’re even trying,” Gooden said. “I really hope this will help move the conversation from ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ to ‘Why does he hit?'”
The hashtag also sparked a parallel campaign, “#WhyILeft,” used to talk about what pushed survivors of domestic violence to leave their abusers. By early evening, both Twitter hashtags were trending in the United States
Gooden acknowledged this isn’t the first time violence has sparked hashtag activism. Though she had never participated in one before, she’s well-versed in the various feminist Twitter campaigns and has read up on the “#YesAllWomen” tweets. And she knows that a digital conversation can die out as quickly as it flared up in the first place.
But at the very least, “#WhyIStayed” has helped Gooden feel less alone.