This week, the Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract of star runningback Ray Rice after video of Rice beating his then-fiancée Janay emerged online. Rice had previously been suspended for two games for the assault. With the release of the video, media scrutiny swiftly turned to his now-wife, speculating over why she would marry her abuser.
Beverly Gooden, a human resources manager and blogger, had a different response. Herself a survivor of domestic abuse, Gooden began tweeting of her own experiences, each one a vulnerable explanation: #WhyIStayed.
Gooden wrote, “I can't speak for Janay Rice, but I can speak for Beverly Gooden. Why did I stay? … Leaving was a process, not an event. And sometimes it takes awhile to navigate through the process. ...I hope those tweeting using #WhyIStayed find a voice, find love, find compassion, and find hope.”
The hashtag, #WhyIStayed, began to trend on Twitter on Monday and was quickly followed up by another hashtag, #WhyILeft. Both hashtags carry with them stories abuse in every form — emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual, sexual, physical — and document the horrific toll it can take on victims’ mind, body, and spirit. Together, they paint a heartbreaking picture of just how ubiquitous and varied abuse can be.
Still, there are some patterns that emerge. Many stories of #WhyIStayed point to warped gender expectations — for women, that their worth is in loyalty, purity, and ‘taking it in stride;’ men, the assumption that ‘real men’ don’t suffer abuse. Others detail the very real economic, physical, or social barriers to getting out of an abusive relationship; still others the central role that concern for their children plays in decisions to stay or leave.
And yes, some point directly to narratives from influential Christian voices, demonstrating — counter to the perception of many pastors in the ‘Broken Silence’ poll Sojourners released in June — that abuse happens within the Church.
The good news here are these tweets themselves. Darkness cannot expand where light streams in — and by telling and sharing these stories on the most social of platforms, each person speaking up is opening the door one step further on this dark sin.
We would all do well to listen. Some of the most powerful tweets below:
Catherine Woodiwiss is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners.