#MaybeHeDoesntHitYou and the power of online feminism

Twitter has become a fertile forum to discuss and raise awareness about social justice issues. One hashtag is highlighting the tolls of emotional abuse.

Regis Duvignau/Reuters
A man reads tweets on his phone in front of a displayed Twitter logo in Bordeaux, southwestern France. In May, the hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou, highlighting the tolls of emotional abuse, went viral on Twitter.

The Twitter hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou went viral over the past few weeks to raise awareness about signs of emotional abuse in relationships.

In recent years, social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, have become popular forums for a variety of social awareness campaigns, many of which have centered around issues relating to women's rights. In the past three years, conversations about feminism on Twitter have increased by 300 percent, according to Twitter product manager Mollie Vandor. After Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech, in which she referenced pay inequalities, #equalpay had 320,000 tweets within two hours. 

“I definitely feel like there’s a moment happening right now, where we’re reaching a tipping point,” Ms. Vandor told the Guardian. “It’s easy to dismiss these social moments as just ‘talk,’ but I really believe that the more we talk about what gender equality means and why it’s important, the more that conversation picks up volume and the harder it is to ignore.”

Young feminists are now able to discuss women’s rights issues in an open forum, educating one another about less-obvious issues like emotional abuse. 

“Abuse is often seen as very cut and dry, and only physical,” Dominican-American writer Zahira Kelly, who started the hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou, tells BBC. “For several years now on social media, on a daily basis I talk about many different forms of abuse and what they look like.”

The hashtag has since taken off, with users tweeting examples of emotional abuses or messages of support for victims. 

And the online conversation has sparked a dialogue offline as well.

“Emotional and psychological abuse are equally devastating, and because of the lack of evidence, a lot of victims suffer in silence or don’t understand they might be in an abusive relationship,” the editorial board with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Wednesday. “The hashtag has become a beacon of light for some and an educational tool for others. The pain, frustration, anger have been encapsulated in 140 characters so others can understand and fight.” 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 40 percent of both men and women have experienced a form of coercive control by a significant other in their lifetime. And almost 18 percent of women have experienced a situation where a partner has tried to keep them from seeing family or friends, NCADV reports.

Emotional abuse can take a variety of forms, including controlling who a partner sees, stalking, undermining a partner’s self-confidence, or demeaning a partner in public.

“The initial tweets were about me and people close to me,” Ms. Kelly told The Huffington Post. “Abuse culture is something most women experience, and at higher rates for women of color like me. But we get very little support for it and are rarely equipped to suss it out.”

But efforts to identify and abate emotional abuse have taken leaps forward in recent years. In December, the UK made “coercive and controlling domestic abuse” a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. And public discussions like these, say experts, can help victims to recognize that they are in a bad situation and may be in need of help.

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