On Monday, the surveillance elevator video of former Baltimore Ravens running back was released. The footage of Ray Rice punching his then fiancée and current wife, Janay Rice (formerly Janay Palmer), has led to two hashtags to go viral on Twitter – #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.
The graphical video released by TMZ captures Ray hitting Janay in an Atlantic City elevator and dragging her limp body out while she was unconscious into the corridor.
The incident occurred in February and, despite his abusive behavior, Janay Rice married her then fiancée Ray Rice a day after his indictment, as reported by Time Online. After the release of the damming video, the Ravens removed Ray Rice from the team and the NFL announced his indefinite suspension from the league games.
Amidst the fanfare, while many cheered NFL’s move to dish out a punishment worthy of the ‘crime’, a horde of media outlets setup camp for ‘victim-shaming’. The Internet, especially on Twitter, exploded with questions about Janay Rice; Why didn’t she leave? Why did she marry him? Why did she stay?
Support for Ray Rice and contempt for Janay Rice continues to build up, with netizens blasting Janay for staying with a man who brutally beat her and ultimately marrying him. They accused her of sticking around for the money. To no one’s surprise, FOX News led that charge on TV when contributor Ben Carson jumped to Ray’s defense. “Let’s not all jump on the bandwagon of demonizing this guy,” said Ben. “He obviously has some real problems, and his wife obviously knows that, because she subsequently married him.”
It was at that point that writer Beverly Gooden had heard enough. “I was watching the responses to the TMZ on my timeline, and I noticed a trend,” Gooden told Mic. “When I saw those tweets, my first reaction was shame. The same shame that I felt back when I was in a violent marriage. It’s a sort of guilt that would make me crawl into a shell and remain silent. But today, for a reason I can’t explain, I’d had enough. I knew I had an answer to everyone’s question of why victims of violence stay. I can’t speak for Janay Rice, I can only speak for me.”
Gooden decided to change the conversation. She called on her followers to share their stories of domestic abuse with the hashtag #WhyIStayed in an effort to draw awareness to the complexities of domestic violence.
She goes on to explain, “I want people to know they are not alone and that there are people who truly understand what they have gone through. When the overwhelming public voice is of shame, you can get lost in the guilt. You can feel voiceless. I want people to know that they have a voice! That they have the power. That’s so critical, that survivors feel empowered.”
Gooden’s message resonated and struck a chord with those that identified with her. Within a few hours, thousands of Twitter users were sharing their stories.
“It’s not easy to leave when you are threatened with additional violence,” Gooden told Mic. “It’s not easy to leave when you remember how it used to be, or when they romance you during the good times, or when they promise it is the last time. Or when there are children involved. Because you believe in love and you believe in them.”
Gooden eventually left her spouse, as did many others who followed the #WhyIStayed conversation which in turn, created the #WhyILeft conversation.
What Gooden started is nothing short of phenomenal. Her words gave strength to those who previously felt isolated and alone in their daily struggles while being in an abusive relationship.
This initiative sees storytelling at its best via 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,” Gooden said on her own website.
A Twitter user also went ahead and posted this infographic to explain that abusive relationships doesn’t always mean brutality.
A separate social media campaign, Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse, was undertaken by the Essex Police in UK earlier this June. The campaign coincided with the World Cup 2014, which is where there is historically a spike in domestic disturbance complaints.
The public was asked to show support for the campaign on social media by tweeting photos of their feet on Twitter via the hashtag #TweetYourFeet and #SayNoToDomesticViolence, which readily found its way to Instagram, riding on the #TweetYourFeet hashtag.
“Launched on September 9, this is the largest ever domestic abuse campaign for Essex, using posters featuring survivors of domestic violence and showing the positive difference it has made to women and men who have left abusive relationships,” said The Enquirer.
The campaign has since gone global within a week of its launch, with an awareness target of over four million eyeballs through the Essex Police’s social media channels on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Views of the domestic abuse pages on the Essex Police website has increased by 710% in just four and a half days and the ‘Standing Together’ web film has had almost 1500 views, the Enquirer further reports.
Twitter’s ability as a shared space for storytelling has always been constrained by its 140-character limit, trading clarity for brevity. But the new domestic violence hashtags explores a niche method of writing, the Flash Fiction, made popular by Ernest Hemmingway with his 6-word story: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
My personal favorite is by Taylor, or Twitter user @were_wolff. Sometimes you don’t have to say too much – its best to let your imagination write the story in your head.