#WhyIStayed became a trending hashtag in November 2014 in defense of domestic abuse victims after a media release of security camera footage that appeared to show NFL player, Ray Rice, punching his then-fiancee, Janay Rice, sparked public conversation on why Janay and other victims of abuse choose to stay in abusive relationships. The hashtag was started by writer and domestic abuse survivor Beverly Gooden via Twitter in an effort to "change the tone of the conversation." It began to trend nationally five hours after its creation and was used more than 46,000 times that day, according to the Web analytics tool, Topsy. #WhyILeft was a later addition to the Twitter conversation.
Beverly Gooden's rationale for staying with her husband was that it was step one in her move to eventually leave her abusive relationship; Janay Rice, on the other hand, expressed that she has no intention of divorcing her now-husband and does not view herself as an abuse victim. In the wake of media attention after the release of the tape, Janay came out in support of Ray on Instagram, writing, "To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing."
Beyond the pull to stay together for the sake of their daughter, Rayven, Janay argued that the violent night in Atlantic City was an anomaly in their relationship. In an interview with ESPN, she said, "As angry as I was, I knew it was something that we could move on from because I know Ray." She added that the violence was not one-sided; Janay was the one to initiate it, slapping Ray before he assaulted her. She stressed that she hopes people can see the love that the two have for one another despite one isolated incident, and how much they have grown because of it.
On November 8, 2014, creator Beverly Gooden posted the following message to her website to elaborate on her inspiration for #WhyIStayed:
"The internet exploded with questions about [Janay Rice] … why didn't she leave? Why did she marry him? Why did she stay? I can't speak for Janay Rice, but I can speak for Beverly Gooden. Why did I stay? … Leaving was a process, not an event. And sometimes it takes a while to navigate through the process. I believe in storytelling. I believe in the power of shared experience. I believe that we find strength in community. That is why I created this hashtag. I hope those tweeting using #WhyIStayed find a voice, find love, find compassion, and find hope."
Stories of why victims stayed varied from feeling unable to leave out of fear to not knowing that abuse was abnormal. Victims left because they realized their lives were in jeopardy, they started to believe they deserved better, and/or they wanted to protect their children.
In response to #WhyIStayed/#WhyIleft, Janay said she was thankful that her experience with domestic violence instigated the movement. Despite the difficulty of enduring the scrutiny that comes from the publicization of a private moment, Janay said that the fact that it began a conversation about abuse was a silver lining.
The hashtag gained significant attention from national media, as well as from the National Domestic Violence Hotline via Twitter. The organization thanked all who were sharing their stories with #WhyIStayed and informed users about their services.
Misuse of the hashtag
After #WhyIStayed became a trending topic on Twitter, it was mistakenly used by the DiGiorno's Pizza Twitter handle as a marketing effort. They tweeted, "#WhyIStayed You had pizza." The administrator for the account later removed the tweet and apologized for the mistake, claiming that no one had looked into the implication of the trending hashtag before taking to Twitter. While many Twitter users brushed over the error, others were deeply angered as they believed DiGiorno was making light of an incredibly serious topic. In response, DiGiorno answered every negative tweet with personal messages conveying their apologies. DiGiorno has since removed the original tweet—but not before screenshots were taken to verify the event.
- Grinberg, Emanuella. "Meredith Vieira Explains #WhyIStayed". cnn.com. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Serico, Chris. "Beyond Ray Rice: #WhyIStayed personalizes domestic violence". today.com. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
- Lee, Jolie. "#WhyIStayed: Powerful Stories of Domestic Violence". usatoday.com. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
- "Janay Rice, in her own words". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2017-04-05.
- "Janay Rice Instagrams a statement defending her husband and criticizing the media and NFL". Time. Retrieved 2017-04-05.
- Desk, Cox Media Group National Content. "Domestic abuse in the spotlight with #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft..." ajc. Retrieved 2017-04-05.
- "Twitter backlash when DiGiorno uses #WhyIStayed to sell pizzas after Ray Rice scandal". ABC7 Chicago. 2014-09-09. Retrieved 2017-04-05.
- Sands, Katrina (2014-09-10). "A Lesson in Crisis Communications, Courtesy of DiGiorno". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-05.
- Stampler, Laura. "DiGiorno Used a Hashtag About Domestic Violence to Sell Pizza". time.com. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Petri, Alexandra. "#WhyIStayed, DiGiorno, and Other Corporate Disasters". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 12 December 2014.