Earlier this week on HLN’s “Morning Express,” I heard an interview between the show’s host, Robin Meade, and the woman behind Twitter’s trending hashtag #WhyIStayed, Beverly Gooden.
In a response to public controversy surrounding videos of (recently ousted) Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, Gooden joined the Twitterland conversation about Rice’s now-famed domestic abuse incident.
Videos of Rice punching his wife, then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an elevator and dragging her unconscious body out the elevator doors (and leaving her face down on the concrete sidewalk) have not only sparked a public outcry about domestic violence, but the footage has also put pressure on NFL higher-ups to chastise Rice beyond his initial (and pathetic) two-game suspension.
Rice has since been dropped from the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL, and his final sponsor, Nike, terminated its contract last week.
What I appreciated about Gooden’s comments on “Morning Express,” which were so transparent and brave – she, too, is a domestic abuse survivor – was she reminded everyone how easy it is for regular women to be pulled into abusive relationships. And that it’s not so easy for even the strongest woman to leave an abusive man behind.
She suggested there may be other reasons, unknown to others looking in, about why a battered woman doesn’t walk out after a violent episode.
Gooden’s comments reminded me of a college friend from years ago, who chose to marry a man I learned three months before I was supposed to fly to Mexico to attend their wedding, was beating her to the point of unconsciousness behind closed doors.
I never got over the shock of hearing that confession. They were the perfect couple. I absolutely adored him – thought they were great together and was so excited to celebrate them as husband and wife.
When she confided in me that night, I pleaded with her not to marry him. I told her it would only get worse, and reminded her they’d eventually have children and, “Do you really want your kids to grow up watching you get hit?”
When those efforts failed, I begged her to go to counseling and consider postponing the wedding date by six months or a year.
Despite my pleading, she chose to stay. I didn’t attend the wedding. They’ve been married four years and have two small children now.
I always felt like I dropped the ball with our friendship, but I never knew what to do.
She wasn’t asking me to save her that night. She just wanted someone else to be in on her secret and condone her decision to marry him anyway.
Listening to Gooden’s explanation of her own abusive relationship reminded me for the first time in years maybe exiting a domestic abuse situation isn’t always black and white or right and wrong, like I believed it was with my friend years ago.
And just like my friend, Palmer not only stayed in the relationship with Rice after he knocked her unconscious in the elevator – she married him weeks later.
And months after the initial incident went public and was blasted all over the news and Internet, she’s still with him, defending him, openly claiming her love for him.
So what are we – the outsiders – supposed to do in these situations?
What do you do when the battered woman stays by her abuser’s side? What do you do when it’s your friend, mother, sister?
As Gooden initially Tweeted, “All these folks trashing women for staying in abusive situations have no clue what happens the moment you reach for a door handle.”
And she’s right. We can’t possibly know or understand what’s keeping Palmer, or women like my friend, in violent relationships.
Maybe it’s the children or a threat of future violence or death. Maybe the women are so manipulated by their spouses they believe no one else will want them. Maybe they have no money, education or family and friends to take them in. Maybe they have no self-esteem. Maybe they were raised in abusive homes and all they know of love is violence and control.
Maybe they’re depressed and just trying to get through the day without being struck.
Maybe they believe, like Gooden was told at one point in her abusive marriage, that God and the church hates divorce, and so therefore, they need to endure what they married into.
(For all you pastors out there with this belief, you might want to revisit biblical teachings about men loving their wives as Christ loved the church: giving himself up to die for her).
Either way, domestic violence is certainly not a black and white issue. Or a simple, moral matter of right and wrong.
It’s wrong, yes. But not everything that’s right can be right all the time.
So at least the good that’s coming from Rice’s horrific video of punching his wife is that we’re talking about it.
Maybe we’ll start thinking about all the women – 1 in 4 – who have suffered from domestic abuse in the past.
And those who will suffer tonight.