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Purple Ribbons, Not Black Dots

If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve seen it: a picture of a hand with a black dot inked right in the center of the palm. The accompanying message informs you that the black dot is a “secret message” to professionals that the person is being abused. It seems like a fantastic campaign — it claims to raise awareness and help people in abusive relationships. And yet…it isn’t actually beneficial, and may in fact harm the people it intends to help.

The problems with the “black dot campaign” are many. First and foremost is that the “professionals” that are supposed to help people with black dots on their palms don’t know what the black dot is. The campaign itself admitted in a Facebook post that “Professional bodies have not been advised or trained in the Black Dot, what it symbolizes and what it means.” Because the meaning isn’t known, it is likely pointless — or even dangerous — for victims to draw these dots on their hands. When something like this spreads on social media, the message isn’t limited to victims of domestic violence and people who can help them; anyone can see it, including abusers. This means that the “secret message” isn’t so secret, and it could lead to further violence if an abuser sees it. The black dot isn’t just useless as a signal to professionals who aren’t trained to recognize it; it is potentially harmful.

Another issue with this campaign is that it seems to be raising awareness for its own sake, without any additional mission. Raising awareness alone does little to actually change the prevalence of domestic violence; it takes further efforts, such as training and education programs and other primary prevention measures, to truly have an impact on gender violence. Many organizations across the country are already doing this hard work — including Blackburn Center. There are also other campaigns that (1) already exist, (2) are better known and (3) take action beyond simply raising awareness. If you want to raise awareness about domestic violence, there are myriad ways to do so in October — also known as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Post a picture of a purple ribbon in solidarity — and then take it a step further by volunteering for or donating to an anti-domestic violence organization, like Blackburn Center. Talk about domestic violence with your friends and family; challenge others who make light of abuse, or who blame victims for their own abuse. By spreading awareness and taking action in meaningful ways, we can go beyond the passive social media activism that campaigns like the black dot encourage. We can make a real difference.

Most importantly, if you know somebody who is being abused, or if you are being abused, the best option is to call a local organization that specializes in helping victims. In Westmoreland County, you can call Blackburn Center at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122. Our hotline is open 24/7, is confidential and available at no cost to you, and can also be anonymous.

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