In the past few weeks, I have watched countless victim blamers come out to ask why Ray Rice's wife, Janay, stayed rather than focused on his violence. The truth is, victims stay for many reasons. I know I did.
When I was 14, I met a shy, kind of nerdy boy in high school, and we became friends. The following year we were dating.
It wasn't long before all the sweet extra attention led to controlling behavior about what I wore, who I saw and where I went. It wasn't long after that when we had our first fight where he was physically violent with me.
I spent a lot of time trying to rationalize our fights in my mind. If only I was a better girlfriend. If only I hadn't worn that dress or smiled at that stranger. Nothing made it better. Yet when I found out I was pregnant at age 16, I still married him like the good Christian girl I was taught to be. I felt I had no choice—that God didn't allow good Christian women to walk away from families they made. I didn't want my baby (turned out to be twin girls) to be raised without a father.
So I shut my mouth and stuffed my fears. Then I walked down the isle knowing he didn't mean it the last time when he said, "I'll never do it again." I just hoped maybe things would get better if I was a great wife and mother. He would see why he didn't need to hit me. That day never came.
However, the day did come that he fractured my sinus bone.
We were arguing, and I knew violence was on the horizon. Our newborn twins were in the room. I thought, "If I'm holding a baby, he won't hit me." So I picked up my daughter, and he swung his fist into the left side of my face knocking me into the wall. He then took my daughter out of my arms and beat me some more.
That was the day I knew I would leave. It still took another year. Why? I had to have a plan. It had to be a safe time, and I ended up pregnant again. So when people ask "why did she stay?", I think of all the reasons I stayed. None of them were because I was stupid, lazy or greedy. It was because I was in love, scared and conditioned to stay.
We need to start having a different conversation about domestic violence, especially against black women. Black women aren't "too strong" to be victims. We aren't "so hard to deal with" that sometimes we "deserve what we get." Violence is a choice. Abusers choose to hit. As a survivor, I understand that it is not my job to carry the guilt and shame for the actions of others. Nor is it the job of Janay Rice and other victims of violence.