Turning #WhyIStayed into #WhyILeft

By Beth Brelje Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

Twitter's domestic violence hashtag, #WhyIStayed, aims to explain why victims remain in dangerous, soul-sapping relationships.

#WhyIStayed started trending after the vicious elevator attack video surfaced this week, showing Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice using his NFL-sized muscles to beat his then-fiancé, now-wife Janay Palmer, unconscious.

Incredibly, this week some fans, including women, wore Rice jerseys when the Ravens played the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night and called for his return to the team.

Public sentiment in this case is another way society downplays the painful effects of relationship violence.

There is another hashtag, #WhyILeft. It is trending, but not as strong as #WhyIStayed.

Yes, there are reasons to stay, including fear of a violent backlash, economic hardship and keeping the family together.

Domestic violence advocates know that victims often leave the relationship, but then go back several times before making a permanent split. Advocates don't push victims to leave. Instead, they accept where victims are in their journey.

Some victims stay in abusive relationships for decades. #WhyIStayed shows understanding for the victim, but let's not get stuck on defending staying.

We should also offer encouragement to leave.

In car wrecks and house fires, victims are rescued by emergency workers. Victims of illness can be rescued by doctors.

Domestic violence is unique, because the victim must rescue herself. There are community resources, but first, she must decide to stop accepting abuse and live a different life.

It takes a change in perspective on the situation. That is difficult because the abuser and possibly other life experiences, mess with her mind, telling her she is not worth rescuing; or convincing her the abusive behavior is normal, over or forgivable.

It is hard to recognize abuse when you are in the middle of it, even if it is obvious to others.

When confronted with abusive behavior, here are some questions to ask.

If the Rice elevator beat-down or some similar behavior happened on the first date, would there have been a second date? If not, why is it OK now?

If the same abuse had been done to an animal or a child, how would the victim feel? If it is wrong for a dog or child to be treated shabbily, why is it OK for an adult victim to get the same treatment? Of course, it is not OK.

Living in a dangerous relationship demands numbness, and if children are watching, they are learning unhealthy things about relationships.

Leaving requires courage, self-worth and acceptance of change. It leads to freedom to live in peace.

Are you thinking of changing your hashtag to #WhyILeft?

You go girl.

Go. And take any children with you.

For support, operators are literally standing by.

Safe Haven of Pike County hotline 570-296-HELP (4357)

Women's Resources of Monroe County 24-hour hotline 570-421-4200

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