Let's "Talk" About Abuse

By: Anna Jeffries

Linguistics experts have named them the fastest growing language in the UK. Along with hashtags, emoji are being used more and more frequently to convey what we want to say, without having to use words. Anyone with a smartphone will be familiar with the smiling piece of excrement and the flamenco dancer in the ravishing red dress; fun and quirky images which bring light-hearted frivolity to a conversation. It’s hard to imagine that these emoji could be used for a serious purpose, but that’s exactly what Swedish charity BRIS has decided to encourage.

A generation of pre-teens now using smartphones combined with the fact that daily communication is becoming increasingly smartphone-based, this charity has niftily worked out a way that young victims of abuse can let people know they’re being harmed, without having to verbalise anything. While intended for the use of children and young adults, it’s a method which could be useful for people of all ages, and could even save lives. If a victim can’t find the words to ask for help, they might now be able to find the symbols.
These ‘Abused’ emojis can be downloaded via a free app and include images of faces with bruises, black eyes and parents holding alcohol.
Sylvia Ernhagen, the charity’s director for communication and advocacy explains that it’s important not only to sustain existing platforms of communication such as internet resources on these sensitive subjects such as emotional and physical abuse, but also to democratise the language of communication; to keep it modern and accessible by all. With emoji being a principal way in which people communicate nowadays, it’s important that they have the ability to convey sensitive issues, as well as trivial ones.
However, some people need some persuading. Gregory Leskin, of the UCLA Center for Child Trauma, is concerned about the potential misuse of the app. He worries that both senders and receivers of the emoji may misunderstand what’s being communicated, or even that these emoji could be used as jokes, which would seriously undermine domestic violence.
The other concern is for victims of abuse who live in close contact with their abuser. For many young people, their perpetrator may be monitoring their phones and coming across the use of these emoji could put the victim in more harm than safety.
However, any new innovation comes with some negative speculation. On the whole, these emoji are a positive step to encouraging victims of abuse and mental suffering to make people aware of their trouble via a method of communication which is most natural to them, without having to say anything out loud. 
While the symbols, being in their early stages of creation, mainly convey situations of abuse, there is plenty of scope for them to be developed to portray symptoms of mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts. These emoji are a step in the right direction to getting people to open up and ask for help in an age where vulnerability is often compared to weakness. In my opinion, any development which reduces stigma and taboo around sensitive issues should, in this day and age, be overwhelmingly encouraged.



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