Human beings form connections through stories. Often times bonding between two individuals starts with the narration of significant moment, but this is not always the case. Some people’s voices are heard more than others, valued more by the rest, which leaves a large number of the population silenced. The voices with the most power tell the stories of everyone and bits and pieces get lost along the way. The hashtag #WhyIStayed was the way women who lived through domestic violence reclaimed their stories. They spoke against the powerful voices, and with their numbers they broke the silence.
This is the power of storytelling, the power of #WhyIStayed. Storytelling allows those that have been silenced with the opportunity to speak. This hashtag campaign was sparked by one woman’s idea to change the conversation surrounding domestic violence, and the voices of many. They wanted to teach the strangers in the online community of Twitter that there is more to what happens behind closed doors than what the powerful voices are saying. They wanted to teach the world that their voices mattered and that their stories were that of hope, survival, and solidarity. #WhyIStayed was successful in teaching, connecting, and inspiring people to tell their stories without shame, and be active change-makers.
On September 8th 2014, a video of Ray Rice, knocking his wife unconscious in an Atlantic City hotel was released. Immediately, news outlets questioned the motive of his wife, Janay, for staying with him. Beverly Gooden, casual Twitter user, wrote a the tweet that changed it all. TMZ released the last half of the video on February 19th, after both, Ray and his wife Janay, were arrested for assault charges. Ray Rice was suspended for two games in the NFL, where he played for the Baltimore Ravens. The full video was released September 8th, and the running back’s contract was then terminated.
Beverly Gooden, author of Confessions of a Church Girl and a victim of domestic violence herself, created the hashtag #WhyIStayed. The purpose behind it was to encourage women to share their stories of why they decided to stay with their abusers, and shine a light on how complex domestic abuse can be.
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
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
Within twenty four hours, thousands of Twitter users had already used the hashtag to talk about their own experiences. These women created a community in which they broke their silence and changed the way domestic abuse was framed. On the first day it was “used more than 100,000 times on Twitter in the subsequent two days” (Crocker). Mainstream press such as Huffington Post, NPR, TIMES, Buzzfeed, Daily Beast, Wall Street Journal and many more, discussed stories of #WhyIStayed and the impact of this particular hashtag activism campaign.
because he systematically/methodically stripped me of my power & self-trust and convinced me there was nobody who would care #WhyIStayed
— keply (@keplyq) September 8, 2014
#WhyIStayed was so well-received that users expanded the campaign into another hashtag that encouraged domestic violence victims to also share their reasons for leaving, #WhyILeft. They created a safe space for more women to come forth with their experiences, yet at the same time managed to make strangers feel included in this community. #WhyIStayed was a successful campaign that went past its expectations by educating and teaching those that did not share these women’s stories.
— MasterPiece (@MasterPiece83) September 9, 2014
— Jonathan Grubbs (@jgrubbs) September 9, 2014
Popular Twitter user @pourmecoffee with 205k followers, Safe Horizon victim service’s agency, branch of ABC News, and a Baltimore sorority all expressed their support and encouragement for the campaign. This shows the wide reach of people that#WhyIStayed was able to impact. The outreach extended to major news outlets such as Washington Post, NPR, ABC News, and more. “I felt that people just don’t realize, asking ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ is such a simple question for a very complex issue.”-Gooden during her NPR interview.
“Sometimes staying is the only decision a woman can make”-Gooden
The campaign has been addressed as “what happens when Twitter falls into the right hands” (Herman). For the most part, there has been an overwhelming out pour of victims who have found it to be new safe space to come forward with their stories. #WhyIStayed was so well-received that users expanded the campaign into another hashtag that encouraged domestic violence victims to also share their reasons for leaving, #WhyILeft. This is a great example of how technology can change a conversation for the better and demonstrates just how connected we really are by allowing users to educate complete strangers that have not had the same experiences (Herman). This global phenomena created a sense of community because those who could not relate to the abuse, learned from the stories shared, and sympathized with the victims.
Not only did #WhyIStayed create awareness, but it transcended to different platforms. The hashtag was adopted as the focus for a “community education event” in Harper College, as part of their Domestic Violence Awareness Month (‘Why Victims Stay’). In addition, daytime television talk show host, Meredith Vieria, spoke about her own experience in an abusive relationship (Crocker). The Twitter hashtag campaign #WhyIStayed served as a vehicle for conversation about the unknown truths of domestic violence survivors.
In order for an online advocacy campaign to be successful it must be spreadable and drillable. Considering that #WhyIStayed was used more than 100,000 times in two days, the campaign achieved this status. Thousands of people participated in creating content as well as spreading it on Twitter and other platforms. It is important for a campaign to be spreadable in a way that it can transcend platforms. An indicator that #WhyIStayed succeeded in doing that is that it was picked up by major newspapers such as Huffington Post, NPR, TIMES, Wall Street Journal, and many more. In addition, it was covered in television, ABC, E!, CNN, and numerous radio shows. This hashtag’s reach was so extensive online that it went as far as being covered in TV and radio. #WhyIStayed to this day is still being used on Twitter, this just goes to show the kind of impact this campaign made in people’s lives. Meredith Vieira made it even more popular by discussing it in her talk show, and sharing her own experience with domestic abuse. She served as an aid celebrity and spokesperson for the cause. All these elements make #WhyIStayed an effective and powerful movement of individuals changing the way their stories were told.
Crocker, Lizzie. “Harsh Truths about Domestic Violence: Why Voicing Terrible Experiences can Help Others.” The Daily Beast Sep 20 2014. ProQuest. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
Herman, Alison. “#WhyILeft and #WhyIStayed Are “Hashtag Activism” at Its Best.” FlavorWire. N.p., 9 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.