How a black dot can (and can't) help domestic violence survivors

There's a new campaign that advises putting a black dot in the center of your palm.

The Internet is full of some wonderful ideas.

I saw this the other day, and it's one of the smartest things I've ever seen:


GIF from i Genietti.

Thank you, Internet! Good job bringing me an awesome idea!

Then I saw the concept for this campaign. At first I supportively thought, "What a great notion!"

The premise is that if you're really in a bad situation as an abuse victim and can't speak up without endangering yourself, you could put a black dot in the center of your palm and discreetly show it to people in public and someone would presumably get you some help.

But as I sat thinking about how putting a black dot on your palm when you seriously need help would look in practice, some questions surfaced.

1. Would very many people in the general public know what the black dot means to even be able to help? Probably not, but now that awareness is being raised, maybe you could get lucky.

2. Is this even a thing that doctors, police, and other professionals are being trained to recognize as a sign for help? Nope, so imagine being in your direst moment as a domestic violence victim and desperately holding up your black-dotted palm to a very confused police officer and being ignored.

3. Don't abusive people have the Internet, too? And if the black dot trend actually does become well-known, isn't there a chance they'd know what it meant, potentially putting you at risk?

I'm not here to poo-poo all over the well-intended idea. As a domestic violence survivor myself, I'm always happy when the public is discussing how to help people in dire situations.

And the public really does love a heroic secret message caper. Remember the pizza ordering lady? That was really quick thinking.

But I feel a responsibility to say it: The black dot is an extreme long shot (as Snopes also notes), and if you are ever in a situation to consider using the method, please consider some other options below, too, if you have the luxury.

A few things could help if you're in an abusive situation:

1. If you're struggling with an abusive situation now, please call (800) 799-7233 to reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline. In an emergency, of course, dial 911.

2. Download the free Aspire app that doesn't tip off your partner to what it is but helps you set up trusted contacts to send a pre-selected SOS message just by pressing a button: "This is the time we talked about. Please come now."

3. Keep watching for the rollout of this app that helps enforce restraining orders. It's set to first be used starting later this month in Seminole County, Florida, and if it's successful, we may see it in other parts of the country soon. The way it works is if you have a convicted abuser, they will be issued an ankle monitor, and if they get within a predetermined radius of you, the app will alert you and police so that you can get to safety and police can respond sooner. That will hopefully really save a lot of lives, and organizations are working on procuring funding so victims will be able to use smartphone technology in spite of their finances.

What the Black Dot Campaign is doing really well is getting people to talk about this.

To be fair, the Black Dot Campaign shared a message they allegedly received from someone who drew courage from their campaign. She didn't use the black dot, though:



From the Black Dot Campaign Facebook page.

And we are asking this question as a nation because of it — what can domestic abuse survivors do to get help when their backs are against the wall? By all means, keep talking about this.

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