While many cheered the NFL's move to (finally) punish Rice's vicious behavior, too many media outlets immediately fell into a tired pattern of victim blaming. "Let's not all jump on the bandwagon of demonizing this guy," said Fox News contributor Ben Carson. "He obviously has some real problems, and his wife obviously knows that, because she subsequently married him."
Writer Beverly Gooden had heard enough. "I was watching the responses to the TMZ 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. 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.
I tried to leave the house once after an abusive episode, and he blocked me. He slept in front of the door that entire night. #WhyIStayed— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce. It didn't cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too. #WhyIStayed— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
He said he would change. He promised it was the last time. I believed him. He lied. #WhyIStayed— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
I had to plan my escape for months before I even had a place to go and money for the bus to get there. #WhyIStayed— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
I stayed because I thought love was enough to conquer all. #WhyIStayed— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
I stayed because I was halfway across the country, isolated from my friends and family. And there was no one to help me. #WhyIStayed— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
You think you know but you have no idea.— Beverly Gooden (@bevtgooden) September 8, 2014
"I want people to know they are not alone and that there are people who truly understand what they have gone through," said Gooden. "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. Within a few hours, thousands of Twitter users were sharing their stories.
Because he made me believe no one else would understand. #WhyIStayed— Leslie Lou (@leslielouz) September 9, 2014
I honestly don't know #WhyIStayed as long as I did. I was embarrassed and in denial.— Jillian C. York (@jilliancyork) September 9, 2014
I was determined to make it work, wanted kids to have their dad, convinced myself that what he did to me wasn't affecting them #WhyIStayed— Rachel Miller (@ReIgniteRomance) September 9, 2014
My mom had 3 young kids, a mortgage, and a PT job. My dad had a FT paycheck, our church behind him, and bigger fists. #WhyIStayed— Ellen G. (@ellen_g) September 9, 2014
#WhyIStayed: because my word was the only evidence.— Rachel McKibbens (@RachelMcKibbens) September 9, 2014
#WhyIStayed Because after being stuck in an abusive relationship for awhile I started to believe I deserved all of it.— kat (@9LivesofKat) September 9, 2014
#whyistayed b/c he never hit me and I didn't think verbal abuse and emotional manipulation was considered an abusive relationship.— Kaman (@hellokaman) September 9, 2014
I kept hoping it was a phase and that things would get better. #WhyIStayed— Republican Sass (@RepublicanSass) September 9, 2014
Because good church girls persevere and overcome. #whyistayed— Akoua Deloire (@AfroIvoire) September 9, 2014
#WhyIStayed because I was 15 and he said he loved me and I didn't know what love was. I thought I had to marry him. It was my fault.— Gabriela (@gsantiromero) September 9, 2014
Domestic violence isn't a rare phenomenon in America. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, and 1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
But these are just numbers, considered in the abstract, without faces and names. It shouldn't take a brutal video to make people care about domestic violence. All to often, it takes the spectacle of violence to thrust an issue endured in silence and solitude into the national spotlight.
"It is never as simple as walking out of the door," said Gooden. "There are so many layers to domestic violence. And not just financial, although those are valid. But we are talking about human hearts. It's not easy to leave someone you love. It's not easy to leave when you have no resources and nowhere to go. It's not easy to leave when you are threatened with additional violence. 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."
I had to stop following the tweets because I was starting to tear up at work. This stuff hits really close to home for me and for a lot of people, so if you need help please reach out:
http://www.thehotline.org/ or 1-800-799-7233
To view the ongoing discussion you can follow #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft on Twitter.