#MeToo Versus #WhyIStayed

More and more, women are speaking up. They are taking a stand, raising their voices and demanding to be seen, heard and paid attention to.

We witnessed this with the rise of the #MeToo movement, with women all over the world setting an example for each other and rising as one to speak against sexual harassment and assault. Several well-known names such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lawrence spoke out, prompting others to do the same. This led to a chain reaction of people publicly voicing their own experiences, holding their assaulters accountable. 

In addition to bringing people’s stories out of the shadows and holding perpetrators accountable, the #MeToo movement had another very powerful effect — it forced us to have conversations about what was going on in the nation. These conversations can be uncomfortable, they can be painful and they can be difficult, but they are also necessary. They force us to come face to face with reality and to acknowledge that the world’s current environment is such that often, women do not feel that they can speak up. 

1 in 5 women in our country are raped and yet 53% of rapes are not reported. We know this, we acknowledge it and understand that if we want these statistics to change, we need to work to actively bring about change in our country and foster an environment where people feel comfortable enough raise their voices and tell their stories without the fear of repercussions. The question then remains, why can’t this acknowledgment and understanding extend to other fields of concern, such as domestic violence? 

In November 2014, TMZ released a video of the NFL player, Ray Rice, punching his fiancé at the time, Janay Rice. This video went viral and stirred public conversation, with people asking why Janay Rice and other victims of domestic violence would choose to stay in abusive relationships, criticizing the victims for not leaving these relationships behind. In an effort to stop this victim blaming, African American writer and activist Beverly Gooden created #WhyIStayed.

She tweeted several reasons as to why she stayed in an abusive relationship, based her own experience as a survivor of domestic violence. During an interview on Good Morning America, Gooden said, “I think what bothered me most was that the question was 'why did she stay' and not 'why did he hit her'. And we do this across the board with violent situations, we do this with domestic violence by asking 'why did she stay?’”

Gooden’s words contain some serious food for thought and her hashtag, in addition to going viral, created a wave of conversation that had positive indications for social change. Unfortunately, its effects were not everlasting and currently, we find ourselves at a place where people are still asking "why did she stay?"

One in every 4 women experiences domestic violence. People stay in abusive relationships for a variety of reasons. It is possible that they are fearful of their abuser or believe that the abuse that they are subjected to is a part of a normal relationship. Many times victims of abuse are embarrassed, have low-self esteem or feel love towards their abuser and therefore cling to the hope of maintaining their family. 

The question we should be asking is not why they stay, nor should we be shaming victims for attempting to deal with their trauma in their own way. Instead, we should ask what we can do to help them, just as we are attempting to do with the #MeToo movement. People subject to domestic violence need to be helped not shamed, and they should not have to defend why they stayed.