Hashtag Empowerment

HashtagThe release of video footage from February of NFL star Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée unconscious this week has thrown the media for a loop. Social media, in particular, has exploded with opinions about domestic violence, the Rice’s particular situation, and the NFL’s response to the whole ordeal (“Oh, you mean that kind of knocking your fiancée unconscious!”)

Since the incident, Janay Palmer has since married Ray Rice, and many people have asked why she would stay in a relationship that is obviously abusive. However, asking a question like that is what we like to call “victim blaming” behavior.

By asking a victim, “Why didn’t you just leave?” you essentially say to her, “What is happening to you is your fault,” as opposed to holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. So when the #WhyIStayed hashtag popped up on twitter, I got excited. Domestic violence is an issue that is pervasive in our culture, but that no one wants to talk about. When we shove a problem into the corner and cover it in darkness, shame, and embarrassment, the abuser gets to continue abusing with no consequences. #WhyIStayed is not only giving a voice to those who have had their voice taken away, but giving a sense of solidarity that abuse victims may have never experienced before. Just knowing you are not alone is so very powerful.

More than 100,000 survivors of domestic violence have used this hashtag to share their own personal reasons for staying in an abusive relationship. That’s the kicker- even though there are often similar themes-being isolated, financially dependent, feeling like the abuse was deserved, or believing him when he said it was the last time- each and every reason is personal. Each woman or man in a violent situation should be applauded for their ability to survive and not made to feel guilty about their decisions. I promise you they know their own situation better than we do.

Read some of the tweets for yourself:

#WhyIStayed I thought it was all my fault and I wasn’t a victim.

Because when I tried to leave he locked the door & strangled me. #WhyIStayed

Because he would threaten to commit suicide if I didn’t. #WhyIStayed

#WhyIStayed His tears had me thinking he was really sorry.

I was 1000 miles away from family and friends with no car. #WhyIStayed.

#WhyIStayed My children deserved a family, a home, financial support