Why We Stayed and Why You Should Stop Asking
Ever wonder why some people stay in really messed up relationships? Delana Listman is a recent graduate at American University and for her Honors Capstone, she created an incredible project called: “Why We Stayed and Why You Should Stop Asking”. This project was created to educate people on why women stay in abusive relationships in an effort to stop accusatory questions of "why does she stay" which lead to a culture of victim blaming. I had the honor of interviewing her and hearing more about her process around this life changing work.
What first inspired you to do this project?
DL: I took a class on gender and violence with Dr. Irvine, who is interviewed in the videos on my website: (http://dlist35.wix.com/whyistayed#!learn-more/c1p9k) and began learning about the different reasons that women stay in abusive relationships. It was extremely eye-opening to me.
When the whole Janay Rice situation happened, (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/sports/football/on-today-janay-rice-says-ray-rice-hit-her-only-that-one-time.html?_r=0) I was floored that people thought: “She stayed with him… it’s her fault! Why doesn’t she just leave him?” Instead of asking, “Why did he beat her up? Why doesn’t he get help?”
Then, when I was in the gender and violence class, I realized my own relationship in college was emotionally abusive. For a while I had heard my friends say, “You are really dumb. Why did you date this guy?” It was so strange to hear them say that because I consider myself to be a strong and smart person who makes good decisions. It was disturbing to have my friends view my relationship in such a different way than I did. Once I witnessed this in my own life, I wanted to explore how to discern what is healthy and not healthy when it comes to relationships. I realized that sometimes it also takes looking back on a past relationship to realize the parts that were not healthy. You get blinded by love while you are in it.
What was the goal of the project?
DL: The ultimate goal of this project was to make people more understanding and less accusatory. In the video we talk about, “Why doesn’t she leave?” Instead of, “Why doesn’t he just stop?” It’s the abuser’s fault. In my opinion, everything is the abuser’s fault. When someone is being abused, you have no idea the levels of barriers there are. When I say barriers, I mean things getting in their way of leaving. It’s important for people to gain more understanding and be aware about how challenging it can be to leave. We judge people so quickly instead of trying to empathize with their situation.
People who are uninformed ask questions about sexual assault out of a lack of knowledge--not to be demeaning. But, when you are the one who is dealing with the relationship, having people blame you and accuse you of staying in the relationship can feel victimizing and make you feel like it’s your fault.
The project was meant to be an overview of the issue of domestic violence and by no means includes every single barrier that affects people of all backgrounds. Furthermore, this project focuses mainly on heterosexual relationships in which the male is the abuser, but we should keep in mind the many issues facing domestic abuse survivors of other sexual orientations.
Can you tell me more about these barriers?
DL: Sure, there are big structural barriers that everyone recognizes as abusive. For instance, being killed or hurt by a partner. But people aren’t always aware of the psychological abuses, power, and control one person can have. We need to change the discourse on abusive relationships.
What was your motivation for doing this project via video?
DL: My double major in school was film/media arts and political science. I was very interested in sexual assault prevention education and curious as to how media and video could be used as a form of inspiration and as an educational tool.
What are some of the challenges you were faced with while doing this project?
DL: Domestic violence is a hugely complex issue that affects different people in different ways. Cultural difference can be challenging, too. When you are a privileged white person, you are going to see a lot less barriers than an impoverished black woman in a poor community. For example, in many more improvised areas, the idea of community is a big deal. Just the act of moving to a neighboring community can be completely life changing and scary for someone. If you are on welfare and living in the same public housing as your abuser, there is no way for you to move out. Or if your partner is illegally living with you, it can be challenging to leave. Domestic violence affects everyone in such different ways. My number one piece of advice is to be understanding of each individual’s situation because you have no idea how many barriers they face.
It can also be really draining to work on an issue like this. Since the material can sometimes be heavy and upsetting, I had to remember self-care. Taking breaks and confronting my own feelings were very important.
What was the most rewarding part of the project for you?
DL: The most rewarding part of the project was when I got to share it with people. My posts received an overwhelming amount of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook as well as other social media platforms. It made me really happy that I could communicate my message in an effective way. It was, however, very surprising to see the reactions my mom’s friends versus my friends. My mom’s friends were beyond shocked by the content I posted whereas my peers had more tolerance for the content. I believe that my generation is a step ahead of older generations when it comes to domestic violence education.
What is next for you?
DL: Right now I am focusing my career path on making videos for social change. I want these videos/documentaries to promote charities and key issues which is why I combined the sexual assault and video work. I’m going to continue to volunteer and keep fighting for this important cause. My work is just beginning.
Check out Delana’s project here: http://dlist35.wix.com/whyistayed#!learn-more/c1p9k
If you are in an abusive relationship or you think a loved one may be, here are some resources to help.
24 Hour Hotlines:
RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline
-Call someone at 800.656.HOPE (4673)
JCS counseling services- http://www.jcsbaltimore.org/
CHANA hotline- http://chanabaltimore.org/
National Domestic Violence Hotline
-Call someone at 800.799.SAFE (7233)