#WhyIStayed is more than a hashtag. It is a trend, yes, where women have taken to social media to share their domestic violence experiences with solidarity. But it is so much more than that.
Each tweet from a woman who has experienced partner abuse, and has shared her experiences under the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft, is a courageous person who has overcome incredible obstacles to finding peace and stability in her life.
Anyone who criticizes a woman for remaining in an abusive relationship does not understand the complexities facing women who have become entangled with an abusive male partner.
Since the videos of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Rice perpetrating a violent assault on his then fiance (now wife) Janay Palmer came to light, many have focused on the victim and her choice of remaining in the relationship. Rather than focusing on the choices of the man who perpetrated the crime, they have questioned the victim’s choice for staying with her abuser.
Truth be told, I don’t fully understand either person’s choices. As a woman, I cannot comprehend putting myself at risk with a man who has shown a propensity for violence towards women. Also as a woman, I cannot understand the male psyche that would justify such a lack of control.
But the man has committed a crime. He has harmed another person without any reasonable justification, and therefore, regardless of the woman’s choices, HE, AND ONLY HE, IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CRIME OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
There are many obstacles that compel women to stay with an abusive partner. Some of those obstacles are psychological and beyond the average person’s understanding.
#WhyIStayed I was hit at home growing up. How was I to have learned relationships could be different?
— dazylady (@dazyladyblog) September 9, 2014
But some obstacles are societal barriers that we have the option to fix, but lack the political or social will to change.
I have a genetic disease and his health insurance was covering my treatment. #WhyIStayed
— Renné Louise (@Wrennelouise) September 9, 2014
Many women stay in abusive relationships because the financial barriers to leaving are more complicated than are easily understood. If healthcare, childcare, employment, and mental health treatment were more accessible for women, they would be more likely to overcome the psychological barriers that trap them emotionally in unhealthy relationships.
Some women do leave, and find that the criminal justice system fails them, putting them and their children at increased risk and danger. In Lorain, OH, Robert Starr was free on bond for the seventh time when he invaded his estranged girlfriend’s home, assaulted her, kidnapped her child, and dangled the couple’s five-month-old son out the window of a moving car.
Even if a woman is inclined to leave, how can she trust that she and her children will be safe when a judge would release her abuser seven times after continuing to commit violent crimes?
We as a society need to do more than express disgust on Twitter about a woman’s choices in a personal relationship.
Instead, we need to garner the political and social will to provide the resources women and children need to be safe. We need to change the good ol’ boy attitudes pervading our criminal justice system that perceive crimes against women as lesser crimes that somehow are the responsibility of the victim. We need to make physical healthcare and mental health care easily accessible to all persons in need, particularly vulnerable women who are in harms way.
We need to hold public figures such as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to account and insist that abusive men do not get a pass for their dangerous behavior simply because they are football heroes. But we need to do more.
We can start by ceasing our inadvertent reflex to blame the victims and instead, start finding practical ways to help them find safety.
We need to change #WhyIStayed to #IWillHelpULeave.
Will we do that? Or will we simply wait for the next incident that prompts outrage but no real change?