#WhyIStayed creator gives keynote at Denim & Diamond fundraiser

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)- The woman who used a twitter hashtag to spark a national conversation about why women stay in abusive relationships was the keynote speaker at the Diamonds & Denim Fundraiser. The event was hosted by the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Victim Assistance Program.

Beverly Gooden said she became frustrated with a culture of victim blaming after a video surfaced in 2014 of NFL player Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancé in an elevator. Gooden realized many people questioned the actions of the victim rather than the abuser.

“I felt personally the guilt and the shame associated with being someone who stayed,” she said. “Questions like, ‘why would you stay?’ ‘why would you allow someone to hit you?’ That is the kind of language that I just didn’t like.”

Gooden is a survivor of domestic violence herself. She took her frustration to twitter. She used the hashtag “Why I Stayed” to share why she stayed in an abusive marriage for a year before leaving her husband.

“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” Gooden tweeted.

“I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce. It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too. #WhyIStayed,” another tweet read.

And, “I had to plan my escape for months before I even had a place to go and money for the bus to get there. #WhyIStayed”

The hashtag began trending, as thousands of other users joined her in sharing their stories. Gooden said reading those tweets proved just how complex domestic violence is. That was the focus of her speech at Fort Wayne’s Diamond and Denim fundraiser.

Gooden said the conversation about domestic violence is starting to change and she hopes to continue to change the stigma of domestic abuse.

“Victims come in all shapes and sizes,” she said. “Victims come in all genders and race and socioeconomic status. It doesn’t make them weak because they have a difficult decision to make.”

About 350 people attended the Diamonds & Denim Fundraiser. The event included a silent auction, followed by dinner and then a live auction. All of he money raised from the event goes to Fort Wayne’s Victim Assistance program.

Victim Assistance advocates help victims of any crime. However, officials say the majority of their case load deals with domestic abuse.

Newschannel 15’s Terra Brantley was the emcee for the evening.