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When Beverly Gooden tweeted #WhyIStayed in 2014, she wanted to share her own story publicly. She was angry, frustrated by rampant victim-blaming of survivors. It was time to come out and tell the truth that so many people today still have a hard time believing—victims of domestic violence can’t always simply leave an abuser, and they were tired of being blamed for it.
Below, we talked to Gooden about her life as an advocate and activist, how the viral tweet changed the trajectory of her life, and the book that’s come out of it all—Surviving: Why We Stay and How We Leave Abusive Relationships.
DomesticShelters.org: How did your hashtag #WhyIStayed come about in 2014?
Gooden: The Ray Rice video had just come out and I was on Twitter and everyone was kind of shocked. [Editor’s note: In 2014, former NFL star Rice was captured on video punching then-girlfriend Janay Palmer unconscious inside the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel.] Back then, we didn’t have a lot of visual evidence of domestic violence. Then, the news came out that [Palmer] married him. I was talking to a friend of mine, a follower on Twitter, about why I’d stayed in my abusive relationship. I hashtagged it #WhyIStayed, he retweeted it and then someone else retweeted it. I didn’t ask others to share their stories, but they did.
DS: Your tweet read, “I tried to leave the house once after an abusive episode and he blocked me. He slept in front of the door that entire night. #WhyIStayed” In the next two days, that hashtag was used over 100,000 times. What did that feel like?
Gooden: Going viral was shocking but seeing hundreds of different reasons was something else. There was so much I didn’t know about how complex [domestic violence] was. This was my first abusive [partner] and I had never experienced anything like that. I was still trying to come to terms with it. I learned so much from that hashtag. I always think of this woman who tweeted that she stayed because she had a chronic health condition and she was married to an abuser who had really good health insurance. So, in order to live, she had to stay with the abuser. And I’ll tell you, that’s not something I’d ever thought of before.
DS: You faced victim-blaming from your initial tweet, too. Someone responded, “What about the following day, or the day after, or the day after? Your reason is not strong enough.” How do you mentally deal with people like that, people who blame survivors for staying instead of blaming abusers for abusing?
Gooden: It really depends on who’s doing the blaming. A lot of women and girls deal with an internalized misogyny that’s not their fault – they grew up hearing those sorts of messages from adults they trust. So I tend to push back gently with them. But in general, I mute those kinds of tweets. I’ve learned that arguing and anger do not work. It only feeds the behavior because anyone who would respond that way to a survivor is looking for attention that I just refuse to give. So if I respond to victim-blaming at all, which is rare, I’ll link research or articles.
DS: You endured a lot more than just your ex-husband blocking the exit. Are you comfortable sharing how you eventually got out?
Gooden: He wasn’t violent all the time—that’s the trick of abusers. I didn’t consider breaking up with him. I wanted to be with him because I loved him. For him, he was violent maybe once every few months. It was so sporadic, I could call it ‘an incident.’ Until it started to increase in frequency. The day before our wedding, he hit me in public, in an airport parking lot. And people were there, but no one helped me. I got on the plane, went home, pretended like everything was OK. It was like the Twilight Zone … it was painful, but I think the shock of it prevented me from processing it as abuse. It was ‘an incident.’ We got married the next day. As soon as we were married, it [the abuse] was almost nonstop. His tone changed, his behavior changed. Now I was his property. We were a Christian household—he was the leader and I was his wife. This was not what I signed up for. We were only married a year. I struggled with leaving because I didn’t want to. I wanted to believe he could get help and change, but I felt like me staying prevented him from doing that. I knew if I didn’t leave, he would eventually kill me.
DS: Did anyone help you?
Gooden: I never called the police. I never would have. As a Black woman … many of us don’t always trust police. And I didn’t want him to get hurt. I didn’t know if I called the police what would happen. We did see a therapist—a Christian male therapist. He told me, ‘You have to think of ways for him not to hit you.’
DS: That’s outrageous.
Gooden: I remember typing into an online search, ‘What is it called when your husband hits you?’ I don’t know if I was in denial or not making the connection. But everything I found pointed to domestic violence. Reading about other people going through it and that they were leaving literally saved my life.
DS: You decided to go to a shelter.
Gooden: I didn’t know anyone in the town I was in. Now I know this was isolation [by the abuser]. I was so sad the day I left for the shelter. I actually locked myself out because I didn’t want to come back. I knew if I came back, I would never leave.
DS: I’m glad you’re free and safe today. You went on to get your Master’s in social justice but you never intended to become a book author, right?
Gooden: I honestly never wanted to write about this, but I met a literary agent in 2016 at a speaking event and she came up to me and said I should do a book proposal. I wasn’t sure—it’s just so personal. The more you talk about domestic violence publicly, the more victim-blaming and scrutiny happens. I didn’t want that, I wanted to fade into the background of advocacy. But I ended up writing the proposal. She didn’t like it. I think she wanted it to be more sensationalized than it was. I’m sensitive to content that’s really violent, so we didn’t agree. So after that ended, I was good. I thought, if this is what the market wants, then I don’t want to put myself out there that way.
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DS: And then the quarantine changed things.
Gooden: In 2020, most of us were in our houses all the time, including me. So I revisited it. I started to write from a different angle. I didn’t want a how-to book, just my story, and I wanted to explore the social aspects of abuse, how marginalized women navigate it. I think it’s an extension of the #WhyIStayed hashtag, but research-based. I think what I was missing in a lot of books [about survivors] was what happened next. How do you get a job? How do you get food stamps? A lot of times when people interview survivors, they’re looking for that sensationalized moment, like their whole existence revolved around their relationship with their abuser. But we have jobs and families and desires and goals.
DS: So true. What are your future goals after this book becomes a best-seller?
Gooden: I want to write rom-coms for TV or film in a writer’s room … or books that are easy reads. Or I want to write children’s books. I think my work will always be anchored in this experience, though. My overall goal is to talk about healthy relationships.
Click here to get your own copy of Gooden’s book, Surviving: Why We Stay and How We Leave Abusive Relationships.
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