Domestic violence: The #WhyIStayed campaign

There is more to domestic violence than what meets the eye

November 25, 2014

When you hear about of a woman being physically abused by her partner, the man rightfully becomes the victim of slander overnight. Our reaction is, however, less definitive when we see the woman choose to stay with the man, even after continual assault. We are left confused, wondering why anyone would willingly continue with a partner who doesn’t just mistreat but actually beats them up.

There are always plenty of stories heard through the grapevine which make us question not only the emotional ineptitude of the offender but that of the victim as well. After all, what kind of woman in her right mind wouldn’t save herself from domestic violence if she had the opportunity to, right?

This was precisely how the global media reacted to Janay Palmer’s decision to marry American footballer Ray Rice who played for the Baltimore Ravens prior to being suspended by the National Football League (NFL). The build-up started following the releases of a surveillance video which showed the 27-year-old Rice punching Palmer (his fiancé, at the time) in the face. Upon hearing of their marriage, the internet went ablaze with criticism for Palmer and her decision to tie the knot with her abuser, proving just how little the average person knows about the cycle of physical abuse.

In order to counter the snarky comments being directed towards Palmer, writer and social activist Beverly Gooden started the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft campaigns on Twitter to encourage victims of domestic abuse to share their experiences. The campaign soon became viral and successfully exposed the inner feelings of women who had been abused, instead of blaming them.

For Gooden — a victim of domestic violence herself — it was the condescending tone with which everyone addressed Palmer that upset her. “I felt that people don’t realise that why she (victim) doesn’t leave is a simple question to a very complex issue,” said Gooden in an interview for The Washington Post. In fact, Gooden and Palmer are just two examples of women who find it difficult to leave their abusive partners, even after repeated episodes of violence. According to the National Coalition for Prevention of Domestic Violence, roughly 25% of all women undergo intimate partner violence! Moreover, the National Domestic Abuse hotline reports that it takes an average of seven tries for a victim to finally let go of an abusive relationship.

The underlying problem with the blame game in cases of domestic abuse is that while the third-party observer admonishes abuse as wrong and believes the offender should be penalised, they also show less concern for the victim. In other words, it is implied that if the victim chooses to stay with her offender, then she must take responsibility and be prepared to bear the consequences. It is this poor ideology that Gooden hopes to change through her campaign. “I really hope to move the conversation from ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ to ‘Why does he hit her?’” she said. Other campaigns of this nature include the #YesAllWomen appeal which aims to counter misogyny and violence against women across the world.

Of course, we must remember that many victims don’t always realise they are being abused as the male aggression might have become too internalised and normal in the society they live in. This is particularly true of Pakistan where women face a lot of resistance while fighting for their rights. Nonetheless, people like Gooden are doing their part to bring about a positive change in the way this sensitive issues are addressed and handled.

Author and personal security expert Gavin de Becker has developed a free online tool called MOSIAC which allows users to anonymously review signs of an abusive relationship and ask for help, should they need to.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, November 23rd, 2014.


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