(Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

As Janay Rice Stands by Ray Rice, Women on Twitter Open Up About Why They Stayed With Abusers

Many domestic violence victims struggle to leave abusive relationships.
Sep 9, 2014· 3 MIN READ
Nicole Pasulka is a writer and reporter who lives in New York City. She has written for Mother Jones, BuzzFeed, The Believer, and the New York Observer.

Yesterday, when Beverly Gooden, a human resources manager from North Carolina, learned that TMZ had released a horrifying video of NFL player Ray Rice knocking unconscious his then fiancée and now wife, Janay Rice, in an Atlantic City casino elevator, she didn't watch the video.

The reaction in the media and across Twitter was harder to avoid.

“The overwhelming tone was, ‘Why did she stay?’ ” Gooden told The Washington Post on Monday. Gooden, for one, can understand why a woman would stay with an abusive partner—she did for several years.

In response, she tweeted:

Since Monday the hashtag that originated in Gooden's tweets and the accompanying hashtag #WhyILeft have taken something horrific and created a moment for learning and growth. Thousands have shared stories of the reasons they stuck with emotionally or physically harmful partners and what made them finally leave.

Many pointed to a similar set of circumstances:

"He isolated me from my friends & sapped my confidence completely, yet so gradually I didn't realize it was happening #WhyIStayed," said one woman.

Another wrote, "I had no idea there were others dealing w this. No clue there were people who could help. Was too emabrassed to ask. #WhyIStayed #whyIleft."

"because i thought if i loved him enough he would stop being abusive #whyistayed. because i knew he would kill me eventually #whyileft," a woman tweeted about the abuse she experienced.

(Among all the confessions and outpourings of support, not everyone got the point of the hashtag. Monday night someone tweeted from the @DiGiornoPizza account "#WhyIStayed You had pizza" and then spent most of last night apologizing for the colossal gaffe.)
There are some common reasons why people don't leave their partners at the first sign of violence. Often they are isolated and have nowhere to go. If children are involved, victims may worry about being able to take care of them on their own. The fear that the violence will escalate if they try to leave can also keep people in these situations.
"A victim may say she still loves the perpetrator, although she definitely wants the violence to stop," writes law professor and domestic violence survivor Sarah M. Buel in the article "Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay."
Victim blaming is real, and we've seen a lot of it since this story went public. Before the video from the elevator was released, the Ravens tweeted, "Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played in the incident." After the video evidence went viral on Monday the team deleted the tweet.
Buel's article is a reminder of what should be obvious but is often questioned. "Domestic violence represents serious violent crime: this is not codependence, for there is nothing the victim can do to stop the violence, nor is there anything she does to deserve the abuse," she wrote.

Conversations like these are essential, but they come at a cost. Not everyone wants to publicly revisit traumatic experiences with domestic abuse.

Though writer Esmé Weijun Wang acknowledges that the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft tweets are spreading awareness of domestic violence, in a post on her personal website yesterday, she explained why she decided not to follow the hashtags. It was just too painful. "Many of us are already terribly aware," she wrote. "The problem is that for some of us, including me, being inundated by stories of domestic abuse is not 'eye-opening.' Instead, it lights panic like a flame catching on kindling."

This level of media and public attention is likely to cause more distress for victims. Janay Rice released a statement on Tuesday morning on Instagram in which she railed against the media for causing her family pain:

"I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it's reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of [sic] for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don't you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!"

Obviously, Ray Rice should be held accountable for his brutality. But as others have pointed out, if his wife chooses to stay with him, the NFL suspension and the Ravens' decision to drop Rice hurt her as well. Regardless of whether Janay Rice stands by her husband, this situation has no easy solutions, no quick path to healing.

At least right now, Janay Rice is staying, and the paradox is that the awareness and outcry raised by a hashtag meant to defend her and other women who have suffered may be contributing to her grief.