Activist shares story of abuse and starting a movement


Dai'Tynn Coppage-Walker/ Iowa State Daily

Social activist Beverly Gooden, known for her #WhyIStayed movement, spoke about being in an abusive relationship Tuesday in the Memorial Union.

Dai'Tynn Coppage-Walker

The day her husband got down on one knee to propose to her was the day she started noticing signs of abuse. Beverly Gooden, social activist and creator of the #WhyIStayed movement, shared her story of domestic violence and gave advice to students Tuesday in the Memorial Union.

As part of her presentation, Gooden shared a video clip of a woman covered in bruises staring at herself in the mirror, looking devastated. Gooden said 24 people per minute experience domestic violence, and she was one of those people.

Gooden said her boyfriend invited her to dinner and got one down on one knee to propose. Their engagement day was when the violence began.

Gooden said she questioned what she did to make her significant other behave the way he did, and was confused, lost and worried. She said she forgave him and remained with him for two years, trying to hold onto the good memories in hopes the good in him would come back.

“This is how I woke up on Saturday morning, to him pushing me out of the bed,” Gooden said. “That’s when I knew something was wrong, because I started to think about everything that I did was my fault, like forgetting to wash the dishes or clothes. I started to realize that it wasn’t my fault. One day I tried to run and he caught me and strangled me. I realized that he could kill me. I wanted to live more than I wanted to be married to him. About two months later, I left, and that was 10 years ago.”

Gooden said she originally didn’t feel comfortable speaking up about her domestic violence situation and felt shame about staying with an abuser. She started using Twitter as a way to express her feelings about her abuse. She said she kept on tweeting the reasons why she stayed with the hashtag, #WhyIStayed. Gooden said she didn’t think anyone was going to pay attention and was at work when she went viral.

“I think I was so emotionally overwhelmed that I didn’t really think about it, so I just started to tweet,” Gooden said.

The hashtag started going viral when she was on her break at work. She came back and saw a large collection of tweets using her hashtag. People were using it to find community and share their own stories. 

After the hashtag went viral, Gooden found herself on ABC News, where she discussed her experience with domestic violence and the reason behind the #WhyIStayed movement.

“There are three reasons why we stay: dependence, fear [and] threats and love,” Gooden said. “I was totally dependent on my ex-husband. I couldn’t swipe the debit card without him knowing. I really can’t express how frightening it is to live with someone who is unpredictably violent, so you learn to take all of them seriously. If they say things like ‘If you leave me, I’ll kill you or I’ll kill me,’ you don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s hurt or their hurt. I wanted to be any love song I ever heard, because my love could conquer this. You remember this wonderful person that they once were. They think that the love can fix this and it never does.”

Gooden gave three suggestions for individuals experiencing relationship violence and those connected to them: “Observe, feel and speak out.”

“I think that we all can’t identify experiencing dating violence, but we have all experienced pain or confusion,” Gooden said. “One thing that is going to help us move [forward] is having empathy with people who are experiencing this. I think it’s important to not making assumptions or accusations but just emphasize.”

Gooden said individuals need to speak out because it could help others in similar situations to enforce change.

“Did you ever report your abuser?” Gooden said. “No. I told people, his family members, and they told me that I needed to pray about it. I don’t know why exactly or why it didn’t cross my mind [to report him].”