#WhyIStayed: Crazy in Love

Ray Rice Press Conference

Hashtags like #whyshestayed and #whyistayed, trending due to the Ray Rice scandal earlier this week, are more powerful than ever. Truthful and inspirational, these hashtags tell the heartbreaking struggle of daughters, mothers, coworkers, neighbors, and friends. Sometimes called invisible victims, sufferers of domestic abuse are often misunderstood – ridiculed at their decision to remain in an unhealthy and violent relationship. The encouragement for Janae Rice and personal stories shared through social media have not only recalled previous suppositions, but also opened the dialogue on domestic abuse in a new light.

5 Misconceptions about Domestic Abuse (and how to identify if you’re in an unhealthy relationship)

Domestic violence only happens in long-term, intimate relationships. Despite this notion, domestic violence carries a much broader definition and affects a much larger group of individuals. There’s no age limit and no requirement for how long one has to be dating to be considered a part of a violent relationship. Individuals between the ages of 16-24 are 3 times as likely to be domestic violence victims. Domestic abuse can begin as early as high school, and can be defined as physical, sexual, or psychological abuse within a relationship. These adolescents, many of whom may not have had a relationship in the past, may not even know that their experience is abnormal and dangerous. In a nationwide survey, 9.5% of high school students reported being intentionally hurt by their significant other.

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Victims are the not dominate partner in the relationship. Contrary to what most people think, victims of domestic abuse are not always the timid, beta-minded counterparts to their abusing partners. The first stage in a violent relationship is to charm the victim, gain their trust, and make them feel safe, comfortable and in control. Abusers often promise that each time is the last time, and victims, under the lie of love, hope they are right and feel a personal responsibility to be strong for their partner.

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People in violent relationships are consciously aware that they are in a violent relationship. Being stuck in a controlling relationship can be confused with the addicting feeling of being wanted and constantly needed. Abuse comes in all forms, and it can start with controlling comments, threats, and guilt-trips until the victim feels physically and emotionally unable to leave. These women may not consider themselves battered. Instead, they may consider themselves deeply in love with someone who has problems they need to overcome. They might consider themselves responsible and feel the need to stand by their partner through troubled times.

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Domestic is a women’s issue. One of the most common fallacies around domestic violence is that it is a women’s problem. However, in 2010, more men than women were victims of this type of abuse. Sadly, many choose to suffer in silence out of fear of embarrassment, ridicule, and fear. Even more upsetting is a man who calls the police to report domestic violence is three times more likely to be arrested than the woman he is calling about.

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Victims can get out any time. Though true in theory, there are tons of factors that stand in the way of people walking away from a violent relationship. Emotions like fear and embarrassment are not only normal, but intensified in relationships where the victim has been made to feel weak and unsupported. More heartbreaking is the deeper emotion that hides within this dangerous relationship: love. A victim might hope their abuser will change, try to support them, and allow themselves to be taken advantage of out of a warped definition of love. Aside from the emotional turmoil, the fear of more serious violence is something only a victim can understand. Over 70% of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship.

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The question, “Why don’t you leave?” and “Why did you stay?” can carry horrible accusations that it’s the victim’s fault. These people don’t understand the reality of the nightmare being faced, making hashtags like the ones trending now important to the compassion and education of our society. The situation is a tragic one, and one that requires our attention and compassion. Victims are not alone in their heartbreak, and there are places and people who want to help.

If you or someone you love believes they are a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.