IMPACT
09/18/2015 02:20 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2015

Domestic Abuse Victims Paint Black Dots On Hands As Subtle Signal For Help

Updated on Sept. 22, 2015 at 9:20 a.m. EST. 

The Black Dot Campaign is a grassroots movement that isn't currently recognized by law enforcement or health officials.

One in four women in the U.S. has experienced severe violence at the hands of an intimate partner, yet asking for help is often far too dangerous for victims to even consider. That’s what inspired a new grassroots campaign that allows survivors to open up about their experiences without even having to say a word.

Domestic violence victims are most at risk for getting killed in the moment that they decide to leave their partners, Cindy Southworth, executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told The Huffington Post in June. To help survivors signal to others that they need help, but are struggling to ask for it, a new initiative is encouraging victims to paint a tiny black dot on their hands.

The goal is for the black dot to serve as a subtle, yet urgent, message to agencies, relatives, friends, and others that a victim is in need of services to help them escape the abuse.

“The original ethos for this campaign was to enable a victim to put a dot on their hand around someone they trusted to enable a conversation to start, so they could open that door and hopefully start a process of seeking professional help,” the Black Dot Campaign stated on its Facebook page. “This is an idea, thinking outside of the box, trying to open up the world's eyes and ears to what is going on in terms of abuse.” 

The campaign comes at a crucial moment when resources for domestic abuse victims are alarmingly limited.

On a single day in September last year, nearly 11,000 requests for domestic abuse services in the U.S. were denied due to a lack of funding, according to a National Network to End Domestic Violence report. 

Those services included emergency shelter, housing, transportation, childcare and legal representation.

But some say that while opening up the conversation to the public is a move in the right direction, publicizing the symbol could put victims at greater risk. 

"The idea that survivors can do something in secret, which is then announced to the world, assumes that abusers don't also check Facebook or see the news," Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, wrote in an email to HuffPost. "Secrecy is actually an important element to safety planning for a survivor, which could be jeopardized if the abuser sees the dot, or sees the remnants of it, and knows it is an attempt to get help."

Gandy said encouraging the public to be more responsive to the signs of abuse and keeping hotline numbers handy might be a more effective approach.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, echoed Gandy's sentiments. 

"It can be very difficult and dangerous for victims of domestic abuse to speak out about what is happening to them, due to fear of what the perpetrator will do, and fear of not being believed," Neate told HuffPost U.K. "The black dot could help some victims to communicate their abuse and it is useful to have a range of options because women’s circumstances vary greatly."

Still, an overwhelming number of survivors in need have flocked to the campaign. 

Within a week, the campaign has reached nearly 5 million people, according to the group’s Facebook page. And it’s helped 49 people escape from their abusers to a safe place. 

For many, the Black Dot Campaign is enabling victims to speak out for the very first time. 

One pregnant woman shared that her baby’s father was constantly abusing her, and wouldn’t leave her side. But she said that when her abuser walked away for a moment while she getting examined, she felt bolstered by the Black Dot Campaign to jot a note on her hand to relay her condition to a health professional.

She took a pen out of the person’s pocket and wrote, “HELP ME.”

“I didn't have to say a word,” the woman shared in her Facebook post. “This campaign gave me the strength and the idea [of] how to ask for help. I am now safe somewhere else thanks to that consultant and the Black Dot Campaign. Thank you, 1 week to go until my due date and I am finally safe.”

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline or visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.

CONVERSATIONS