After a video emerged Monday showing Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back, knocking his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Rice unconscious in a hotel elevator, hundreds of Twitter users adopted a hashtag, #WhyIStayed, to share their stories of living in -- and in many cases being trapped in -- an abusive relationship.
Beverly Gooden, a writer from Virginia, created the hashtag and the message ("leaving was a process, not an event," she wrote on her blog) after she saw online backlash about the Ray Rice video and Janay's decision to stick with her husband.
"I was watching the responses to the TMZ [sic] on my timeline, and I noticed a trend. People were asking 'why did she marry him?' and 'why didn't she leave him?’" 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.”
In a series of tweets, Gooden shared her experiences living under a constant threat of violence at the hands of her ex-husband. Her candid social media narrative paved the way for scores of other victims of domestic violence to join her.
Janay Rice reacted to the backlash and the end of her husband’s football career in an Instagram post shared Tuesday. “To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday [sic] is a horrible thing,” Rice wrote. “To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.”
According to the Advocacy Center, domestic violence victims tend to stay in abusive relationships because of fear, low self-esteem, money issues, concern for their children's welfare and hope the situation will change. On average, an abused woman will leave the relationship temporarily seven times before she leaves for good.
Figures from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reveal that 1.3 million women will experience some form of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
Since the hashtag went viral, a second one, “#WhyILeft," has grown out of it, as a way for women to share how they ultimately ended violent relationships.
Still, not everyone is using the hashtag in the way it was intended. DiGiorno Pizza tweeted this after the hashtag went viral:
— ChuckyT3 (@ChuckyT3) September 9, 2014
After sparking Twitter outrage, the company’s social media manager has apologized, saying the tweet was sent without checking the “context of the hashtag before posting.”