WOMEN
09/08/2015 11:41 am ET Updated Apr 12, 2016

The Ray Rice Video Changed How We Talk About Domestic Violence

Looking back at the #WhyIStayed viral movement a year later.
The Ray Rice video triggered a social media conversation about domestic violence.
Credit: TMZ
The Ray Rice video triggered a social media conversation about domestic violence.

Let’s rewind one year.

It’s the early hours of Sept. 8, 2014, and TMZ releases a now-infamous video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée in a casino elevator.

As the morning goes on, the grainy, graphic footage spreads online and social media reacts. First with revulsion at witnessing such intimate and vicious violence perpetrated by a sports star. But then, with judgment directed towards the victim of the assault, Janay Rice.

Many commenters questioned why Janay -- who married Rice after the assault -- would stay with someone who abused her. If it was really was so bad, they wondered, wouldn’t she just leave? 

Writer and domestic violence survivor Beverly Gooden remembers watching the public’s reaction in disbelief. "The conversation was centered on her response to the violence, instead of his actions," she said. Fed up with what she perceived to be blatant victim blaming, she shot off a series of tweets using the hashtag #WhyIStayed to explain why she remained with her abusive ex-husband. "I stayed because I thought it would get better. It never got any better," she wrote in her first tweet using the hashtag.

Gooden had less than 1,000 followers and didn’t expect much of a response. But her message struck a nerve. Hundreds, then thousands of survivors began to tweet using her hashtag. Another hashtag, #WhyILeft, also emerged, which focused on what triggered survivors to finally flee. 

By the time night fell, both Twitter hashtags were trending in the U.S. The overwhelming response spiked over the next few days and then continued at a steady stream for weeks. (Even today, the hashtags are still used almost daily.)

"In 40 years working on domestic violence, I’ve literally never seen a conversation of the kind we are having now," Kim Gandy, CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told The Huffington Post at the time. The viral movement had successfully transformed the release of a graphic video into a nuanced, educational and compassionate conversation on intimate partner violence, driven by survivors.  

Now, a year later, one organization has released a data analysis of that conversation, calling it "a milestone in domestic violence history" worth cataloging and commemorating. 

Big Mountain Data, a startup that develops data science solutions to help fight domestic violence, studied the use of the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft on social and mainstream media between Sept. 8 and Dec. 1, 2014. The data counted 198,696 mentions of the hashtags during that snapshot of time. Most were on Twitter, followed by Facebook and mainstream news. Of the hashtagged posts, 85,687 were original posts (not retweets).

On Tuesday, Big Mountain Data shared its findings in an infographic that highlights both the scope of domestic violence and the themes that emerged from survivors' stories. 

"This was a 21st-century response to the victim shaming and blaming that surrounds domestic violence," said Susan Scrupski, founder of Big Mountain Data. "We wanted to honor and preserve this moment on behalf of these courageous women who came forward. We couldn’t let it slide on by on the newsfeed."

High resolution version of infographic is <a href="http://tremendo.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/why-they-tweeted.pdf">availa
The Tremendousness Collective
High resolution version of infographic is available for download here

The data gathered on the hashtags will be stored online and available for researchers to access at a later date, Scrupski said. 

"For me personally, the posts were heartbreaking, they brought me to tears. I think anyone who’s been involved in an abusive relationship can relate," she said. "But as someone who does research, I realized that if you put this pool of knowledge in a data set, you can mine it for insights."

An analysis of the posts found that the most common reason survivors gave for staying with an abusive partner was to keep the family together. The second most common reason was love, followed by being too scared to leave. That fear is justified: Women are at a higher risk of being killed when they are attempting to leave an abusive partner, and during the period immediately after fleeing. 

For those survivors who wrote about leaving their partners, the most reported reason was fear for their children’s safety. When women are shot in domestic disputes, children are often killed alongside them. The majority of mass shootings in the U.S. -- when a shooter kills four or more people -- involve an intimate partner or other family member.

Seventy-five percent of the people who shared on Twitter using the hashtags had less than 1,000 followers. "These are not celebrities, these are real women talking about real life," Scrupski said.

<span>Posts using #WhyIStayed or #WhyILeft organized by key themes.&nbsp;</span><span><span>View <a href="http://big.assets.h
SALESFORCE
Posts using #WhyIStayed or #WhyILeft organized by key themes. View larger version of the infographic here.

Gooden believes the social media movement she sparked with her tweets changed how the media and the public talk about domestic violence.

"Before as a survivor, when I would read about domestic violence, I would read about it from the angle of 'here are the statistics,' etc. Now, I see lots of survivors talking about what they went through," she said. "Usually, we are being talked about. But that day, we took control of the conversation."

She still checks the hashtags every day. 

"The worst thing for a survivor to feel is alone," Gooden said. "I want them to feel that someone is out there listening."

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The Huffington Post ran a series on why women don’t leave abusive partners, exploring themes of fear, love, family, financial abuse, isolation and shame.

Read those stories below: 

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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