#WhyIStayed is not a hashtag about battered women.
I'm not surprised that the media is covering this hashtag that way. And I'm not surprised they are focusing on judging survivors' actions instead of abusers'. I'm not surprised some Twitter users are making jokes about the hashtag or that so many hundreds do have stories of domestic abuse to share. Like many others, I'm disappointed by all of it, but not surprised.
The particular part of the hashtag's misrepresentation that gets under my skin is the assumption that only men abuse only women. "Why I stayed," as a statement, is genderless, but people fill in the blanks to think it means a woman staying with a man who is physically hurting her.
The truth is that not all survivors are women, not all abusers are men, and not all abuse is physical. And it does harm to assume otherwise. Emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse -- they all hurt. It also hurts to perpetuate the idea that domestic violence only involves fists. Part of why I stayed with my abusive girlfriend was because I thought domestic violence was a man hitting a woman. I didn't recognize the signs because it didn't even occur to me as a lesbian to watch for them.
Not only does domestic violence occur in the LGBT communities, but we are actually at higher risk than heterosexuals. The CDC found in 2012 that while 35 percent of heterosexual women experienced physical violence, rape, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, 44 percent of lesbian women and 61 percent bisexual women did. For men, the rates were 1 in 4 for gays and heterosexuals and 1 in 3 for bisexual men.
Let those sink in. Would you have guessed that almost a third of men have been raped, stalked, or physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime? Or that if you are a bisexual woman you are more likely to experience intimate partner violence than not?
I tweeted about these gender issues and I got replies about how most victims are women and most abusers are men so we should focus on that. The repliers likely wanted to lift up that women are disproportionately affected. This is true and important, but why would this mean we should marginalize other underserved communities? Why would we want to shame male victims by excluding them?
Expanding the conversation doesn't threaten the validity of the very real issue of women being beaten by men. It strengthens it for all of us so that no survivor is made to feel invisible.