In a tale of Twitter actually being good for once, victims of domestic abuse are joining behind the hashtag #WhyIStayed to explain that leaving their abusers isn’t as cut and dry as we’d all like it to be. It all started with the story of Ray Rice – the American footballer who knocked his fiancée Janay Palmer out in a lift on Valentine’s Day this year – finally being kicked out of the NFL after video footage emerged of the actual punch that floored her.
We’d previously seen a video of him dragging her out of the lift at the Atlantic City casino, but apparently that wasn’t enough for the NFL to give him anything more than a two-game suspension. Really.
Now that he’s actually been booted off of his team, people have lots to say about it. Step in some commentators from Fox News, saying stuff like, ‘I think the message is, take the stairs.’ And, ‘The message is, when you’re in an elevator, there’s a camera.’
Obviously, making light of the situation is grotesque, as is making it seem like it was Janay’s fault for not behaving correctly. Yes, she hit him first, but his response was not proportionate (and knowing his NFL-level-strength, never would have been) and, as we’ve seen from other elevator incidents of late, if someone’s slapping you, you don’t have to react by punching them. More condescending than that, though, is the argument that Janay is at fault because she is now married to Rice.
On one side, people are suggesting that if she stayed with Rice, he can’t be that bad, or she can’t be that traumatised by what happened. On the other, some well-meaning people, who you might think could be on the right side of things, are arguing that if Rice did that to Janay, why the fuck is she staying with him? It’s hard not to agree with this argument, but it’s so important that we don’t.
The thing about domestic violence, what makes it so much worse than other types of violence, is that it’s done to people who can’t necessarily escape. Victims of domestic abuse – that’s one in four women in the UK, one in three in the US, and many men, too – can’t always turn off their own feelings towards that person in light of the violence or coercion they’ve suffered, and what’s worse is that sometimes domestic abuse can include the perpetrator threatening – or committing – violence against the victim if they attempt to leave.
That’s why these #WhyIStayed tweets make for depressing yet important reading. It’s worth knowing that leaving a violent partner isn’t an easy decision for many, nor one that is easily facilitated by others.
If those make grim reading, though, it’s very heartening that its response, #WhyILeft, has also started trending. Here, victims of domestic abuse and violence share their stories of what gave them the courage to leave the partner who was abusing them:
As for Janay in all this? Quite simply, she’s put out a statement via her Facebook and Instagram asking people to leave her alone. As is her right. We might not be able to understand why she’s staying with Rice, but we’re not in her position right now, and she’s not the person to blame here.
But whilst it’s true that Janay never asked to be a role model for the anti-domestic abuse cause, the positive we hope she’ll be able to take in time is that her story has now become way bigger that just her personal situation – and is now showing all of us how much more sympathetic we need to be towards victims of abuse.
If you or anyone you know is in direct threat of violence then call the police on 999. If you are being affected by domestic violence or abuse, then contact Refuge on 0808 2000 247 or visit refuge.org.uk
You might also be interested in:
Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.