Video leaked to TMZ of NFL player Ray Rice rendering unconscious his fiancé, now wife, Janay Rice has people asking, “Why would you stay with someone who abuses you?” Trending on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites is the hashtag- #WhyIstayed. Women and a few men, who’ve been subjected to domestic violence have taken to social media in hopes of raising awareness and perhaps explaining in less than 140 characters a complex, often gut wrenching, decision. Below are some of these confessions on Twitter.
“BC I thought I could save him #whyistayed.”
“#WhyIStayed I was afraid to admit to my friends and fam what was really happening.”
“He said he’d never do it again.#WhyIStayed”
“#WhyIStayed I felt like a failure to the world and that I didn’t deserve better.”
“#whyistayed He convinced me I deserved it and provoked it.”
“#WhyIStayed I told friends and family repeatedly. They told me to work through it”
I found myself moved to tears by some of these explanations, because I heard my own voice in these hashtag confessions. Just as I often minimize my military service as not being that significant, I find myself questioning the level of abuse I suffered in my own situation. That is the most devastating part of abuse, the excuse of “It wasn’t that bad”.
My abuse began very soon after I took my marriage vows. My ex-husband drank a six-pack of beer every night, to self medicate against his untreated PTSD. He would become verbally abusive to the point that I began to believe I was; “A worthless piece of crap.”, who should be thankful he married me because I “couldn’t keep a man happy.”, “didn’t deserve anything better.” and what was wrong with me, couldn’t I see how I was hurting him.
The verbal abuse, along with the isolation from family and friends due to the normal obligations of a military life gradually wore away at my confidence. I began to believe those horrible things about myself. The physical abuse began gradually as well. I could say to this day he never purposely hit me. But I’d still be awoken in the middle of the night as I was kicked, punched and once or twice found his hands wrapped around my throat. When he stopped drinking I thought the abuse would end, but instead it got worse, with walls being punched, plates being thrown or threats of him killing himself if I ever left. I couldn’t report the abuse to any authorities because the first time I had it was dismissed. One of his commanders gave me the lay of the land while we were stationed in Germany, “You can report this abuse, but it will be hard to prove. And it will ruin his career. He’ll lose everything and so will you- your housing will be gone, your health benefits will be gone, and since you’re not military you’ll have to leave the country immediately. He is the soldier, so the Army will protect him not you, keep that in mind if you decide to go forward with charges.”
Perhaps because I was never physically hurt people thought the abuse was tolerable- I thought it was tolerable. I began to believe that if I left, it would be the same as leaving someone with a terminal disease. If you asked me for an excuse I had a dozen ready-made: the military lifestyle, his PTSD, his alcohol abuse, his mental illness issues, my need to “save” him, if I loved him enough he’d get better. Close friends who saw the abuse would get frustrated at my lack of concern and motivation to stop it, which ended many friendships. While others that I hid the abuse from were shocked to know it was happening at all. When I told my parents about the abuse, my own mother said, “Marriage is hard. But divorce is not an option- you need to stay and try to work it out.”
To this day I don’t place blame squarely on the shoulders of my abuser. I chose to stay. I also chose to leave. During his last suicide attempt he threatened to use a hunting rifle on himself, when he pointed it at me that was when I knew I had been abused. That was when I decided to leave.
One Twitter hashtag summed up the problem many victims face:
“Victims are always expected to explain #WhyIStayed & #WhyILeft. Place the burden where it truly belongs & ask abusers #WhyIHit or #WhyIRape.”
I agree there should be accountability from abusers. But I also believe that the trend #WhyIStayed is productive. Explaining why you stay in an abusive relationship, and further explaining what would motivate you to leave, has opened an important conversation. Let’s keep talking…