If you just so happen to see someone with a black dot on their hand, there’s something important that you must know. You see, back in 2015 a social media campaign encouraged certain individuals to identify that they needed help by drawing dark marks on their palms. And the reason for the gesture is incredibly serious, too – certainly enough to get the cops involved in many cases.
Word has also spread about the black dot – mostly thanks to engagement online. And the web has undoubtedly benefited in boosting the profile of campaigns or movements that otherwise may have gone unnoticed. At the very least, it required more work to get your message out there before the dawn of the internet.
Then, of course, social media has played a big role in circulating information worldwide. In fact, if a cause is promoted on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it has a real chance of reaching millions of people across the globe – just as the Black Dot Campaign did.
But what exactly is the Black Dot Campaign? Well, it started life in September 2015, when a Facebook user from the United Kingdom created a page for the initiative on the social networking site. There were explanations, too, as to why the black dot was necessary and what it would be signifying. Yet this fledgling movement didn’t arrive without sparking some controversy.
And, in fact, the Black Dot Campaign isn’t the only initiative to use the idea of body modification in order to signify personal struggles. Project Semicolon had a similar idea when it emerged back in 2013 in order to help those who were tackling mental health issues.
Founded by a woman named Amy Bleuel, Project Semicolon had a clear aim going forward that it would ultimately share on its official website. And the message itself was incredibly powerful. The post began, “Project Semicolon is an organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide.”
“Our work is based on the foundation and belief that suicide is preventable and everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide,” Project Semicolon continued on its site. “Through raising public awareness, educating communities and equipping every person with the right tools, we know we can save lives.”
Founder Bleuel was no stranger to mental illness herself. In fact, the Wisconsin resident had gone through tough times from early on in her life – beginning with her parents’ separation when she had still been a young child. And even following her mom and dad’s divorce, there was still plenty of strife in her household.
Bleuel offered more insight into the situation in a detailed post on Project Semicolon’s website. She wrote, “At the age of six – two years after my parents divorced – I chose to go live with my father and his new wife. Living with my father was great until my stepmother began abusing me physically, mentally and even emotionally.”
Bleuel continued, “I endured [my stepmother’s] abuse until I was taken from my father and put into state custody. I remained there while I waited for my mother to come for me. This happened at the age of eight, marking the start of my journey into ‘the system.’” Unfortunately, though, this didn’t signal the end of Bleuel’s troubles.
You see, the abuse that Bleuel had suffered had made a real impact, leading her to sometimes make the wrong decisions. Then, when she was just 13 years old, Bleuel endured a truly horrific experience: she became a victim of rape.
Yet even after that, the young woman did not get the help that she needed. Bleuel continued in her post, “Rather than being reassured and comforted after the assault, I was held responsible for a crime I did not commit and put back into the system. The next five years of my life were spent in darkness and total solitude. I was even heavily medicated with drugs used to treat mental illnesses – despite never being diagnosed with one at the time.”
Bleuel added, “I fell victim to self-injuring behavior more than once and, on a number of occasions, even attempted to take my life.” There would be an overwhelming loss for Bleuel, too, as when she was 18 years old her father died by suicide.
Then, around ten years on from the death of her dad, Bleuel decided to do something to help people in a similar position. Yes, even though the intervening decade had not always been easy for her, she nevertheless knew that she wanted to make a positive impact on others – and she would do so through Project Semicolon.
Tragically, though, Bleuel’s own story would ultimately end in heartbreak. Less than two weeks after her post was shared on Project Semicolon’s website on March 10, 2017, the founder took her own life. Bleuel was just 31 years old at the time of her passing.
The project has continued after Bleuel’s death, and it spreads its message in a unique way outside of the internet. In particular, it’s been suggested that people who have battled their own mental health issues or lost a loved one to suicide should get a semicolon tattoo as a way of showing support to the cause. And a few famous faces have followed through in that regard.
Tommy Dorfman and Alisha Boe, who both star in the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, inked up in April 2017 alongside the show’s executive producer Selena Gomez. And perhaps because the show deals with the aftermath of a suicide, the trio decided to make a gesture of support towards Project Semicolon.
Dorfman even went on to share a photo of their tattoos on Instagram as well as a message of his own. He wrote, “Today was a magical day. Another day to be grateful to be alive. Alisha, Selena and I went together to get semicolon tattoos. The semicolon symbol stands for an end of one thought and [the] beginning of another.”
“Instead of a period, authors use the semicolon to continue a sentence,” Dorfman added. “For us, it means [the] beginning of another chapter in life in lieu of ending your life. If you’re struggling [or] if you feel suicidal, ask for help. Start a new chapter with the support of others. And RIP Amy Bleuel, who started the semicolon movement.”
And in the United Kingdom, a Facebook user may have been inspired by Project Semicolon to start up her own campaign in September 2015. The individual in question wanted to help people who were suffering from domestic violence, and in order to do so she took to the social media site.
Known as the Black Dot Campaign, the initiative would quickly attract attention online. And a post on the Black Dot Campaign Facebook page would go into further detail about the aim of the project, explaining, “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.”
The post went on, “[From there, the victim] could open that door and hopefully start a process of seeking professional help. This is an idea [that came from] thinking outside of the box, [and it’s] trying to open up the world’s eyes and ears to what is going on in terms of abuse. The idea came from a former domestic violence victim.”
The Black Dot Campaign’s creator would also come forward to talk with ITV News about her past struggles. And in the process, the woman – who remained anonymous – explained how her own experience of abuse had led her to conceive of the symbol.
The woman said, “For five years I experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse, [and] it is the loneliest, scariest place to be. I had ample opportunities to seek help, but I never did. I wish I could have put something on my body so they can start that conversation with me. That’s where the black dot idea came from.”
And before long, the campaign page had reached around 40,000 likes on Facebook, while the message behind the endeavor had gone viral. Yet regardless of the good intentions surrounding the project, a number of people argued that it may actually backfire in practice.
You see, it was suggested that, as the campaign grew, an abuser may actually learn about the significance of the black dot. As a consequence, then, a victim could be placing themselves in even more danger by signalling to anyone who sees their hand that they need assistance.
The Black Dot Campaign founder had a response to these concerns, though. She wrote, “Any idea of ‘help’ in these circumstances [has] risks. That’s why we continue to invent new ways to help. The black dot is not the only way to access help, but it could be the one that could help a particular person. Each domestic abuse case is completely different.”
The Facebook user continued, “Each perpetrator behaves differently, with one thing in common: control. [The black dot] could [be a risk], but that person knows their perpetrator and what the triggers are – and what is safe and not safe to do.”
The anonymous founder then concluded her thoughts, writing, “Many are unable to speak out through fear, shame [and] unknown consequences if children are involved. Just because you are or have been a victim, it doesn’t mean [that] you are stupid and make stupid decisions. This [campaign] has helped many people already, and I thank everyone for their continued support.”
And while there may have been drawbacks to the black dot method, the campaign did receive some backing from the head of an important organization. U.K. charity Women’s Aid strives to eradicate all forms of domestic abuse, and its chief executive believed that the campaign did have potential.
In September 2015 Polly Neate told HuffPost, “It can be very difficult and dangerous for victims of domestic abuse to speak out about what is happening to them. [This is] due to fear of what the perpetrator will do [as well as] fear of not being believed. The black dot could help some victims to communicate their abuse.”
Yet although Neate could see the positives behind the campaign, she still noted that there could be risks to victims who choose to use the black dot method. Sandra Horley from fellow U.K. domestic violence support organization Refuge waded into the debate, too, and expressed the same fears. Regardless, though, the movement’s creator refused to budge from her stance.
The founder said on Facebook, “People are talking about domestic abuse. They are sharing my posts and opening up the world’s eyes to this issue. In two days we have reached 1.5 million people, and everyone is getting involved. People are thanking me, we have helped people access services they didn’t feel strong enough to access and we are raising awareness worldwide.”
In the end, the Black Dot Campaign was shut down on Facebook after less than two weeks – perhaps in part because of the objections that it had received. But in a surprising twist, the idea hit the headlines again a couple of years later.
Yes, in June 2017 an Irish modeling company called Size Gorgeous Management wanted to bring the campaign back into the public consciousness. Unsurprisingly, though, the same concerns about the black dot were raised once more, and yet again Women’s Aid stepped into the fray to comment.
Talking to The Irish Times, a spokesperson for the charity said, “We are surprised that the Black Dot Campaign is being taken up [in Ireland] given the valid criticisms of it when it started in the U.K. and U.S. in 2015. These led to the campaign dissipating very quickly.”
The Women’s Aid representative continued, “Encouraging people experiencing domestic violence to visibly mark themselves in this way could, unwittingly, lead to very dangerous situations. It could signal to the abuser that the person wants to leave and is asking for help.”
Yet those worries seemingly weren’t shared by Size Gorgeous Management, which was looking to spread the campaign’s message across Ireland. And Sharon McCarthy, who was coordinating the Irish project herself, revealed a bit more about the plan to The Irish Times.
McCarthy said, “We are the first body in Ireland to launch the campaign here in Ireland. We will launch on the streets of Dublin and in and around popular locations to highlight that the black dot on the palm of a hand is a silent cry for help against domestic violence – for both men and women.”
McCarthy further justified the decision by adding, “One of the models that we work with has been the victim of domestic violence, and we are doing this for her. We believe the black dot idea is a legitimate method of seeking aid. And by raising awareness, [the scheme] will help the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence.”
Yes, nowadays, people are increasingly using social media to raise awareness about serious issues. After all, it’s arguably the easiest way to send a message to a wide audience. And as the Black Dot Campaign demonstrates, it can inspire people to create real change in the world – particularly when the cause is a worthwhile one. For instance, one woman’s YouTube video reached millions, and the story behind it is truly moving.
In the digital age, it’s not unusual for people to visually document their lives. It can be valuable motivation for weight loss, for instance, or it can help teenagers deal with the challenges of puberty. It can even attract virtual online cheerleaders to encourage people through a project or a hard time. But when this woman appeared to take a selfie every day for a year, the reason touched the hearts of many.
There are myriad videos on YouTube that play on the idea of taking a selfie a day throughout a portion of the subject’s life and arranging them into a montage. This one, however, really stands out from the others.
The video, which flicks through the woman’s daily selfies throughout an entire year in her life, has garnered more than 55 million views on YouTube. Created in 2012, the film shows the unidentified woman – who wears minimal makeup and has loose, wavy hair – initially looking happy.
The selfies are taken in various situations – indoors and outdoors, and in different weather conditions and lighting as the seasons change. But the photos depict more than just the changing face and hairstyle of the woman throughout the year.
At first, the happy and confident-looking woman sometimes appears as if she is ready to take on the challenges of a day at work. On another day, it looks like she is going for a winter’s stroll by the river. On another still, she is snuggled up in a onesie, perhaps ready for an early night.
But something disturbing seems to happen as the photos scroll by. As the time-lapse montage continues, the woman’s smile begins to fade a little. She looks increasingly unhappy and concerned – maybe even a little terrified.
Then, a bruise appears by the woman’s chin. As the year progresses, a black eye appears and then a bruised cheek. Thereafter, the once-smiling face seems to become more gaunt, and it takes on a frown as various bruises come and go.
While the days flash by, the look of distress on the woman’s face becomes as vivid as the bruises she bears. Another black eye subsequently turns into two black eyes, and contusions around her neck lead into a cut lip.
Evidently, the woman is a victim of domestic violence, and the video, called One Photo a Day in the Worst Year of My Life, documents her ordeal. The powerful movie, therefore, bluntly illustrates a stark reality facing many women.
At the time it was shared online, one of the biggest controversies surrounding the video was the question of whether the clip was genuine or a publicity stunt of some sort. Indeed, more than three years after the video was uploaded to YouTube, tens of thousands of comments have been generated, many of which call into question the video’s authenticity.
So as the video gained more attention, the internet backlash grew, with various observers calling into question its veracity. For instance, reddit user Yarddogkodabear commented, “This looks like film make-up [and] I’m not sure someone in this emotional state would be this dedicated to film her face being beat.”
Others, however, were more sympathetic and saw the bigger picture, insisting that the video’s message is more important than its authenticity. “Overall it is a good message,” wrote HoneyNunches, before adding, “Humans (male or female) who abuse others are some of the worst type of scum.”
Meanwhile, another commenter urged victims of domestic violence to seek help. “Life is far too short for anyone to put up with any kind of abuse,” wrote MulderFoxx. “If you feel that your life is worse with a person around than it would be if you were alone, then it is time to leave.”
As it turned out, this particular woman was indeed an actress, and the video was created by an advertising agency in Serbia in 2013 in order to raise awareness of domestic violence. And, with such a large audience tuning in to watch, it seems to have struck a chord that resonated globally.
The bruises in the video were – thankfully – created with the use of makeup, but the short movie still serves to highlight what is unfortunately a worldwide epidemic. In fact, shocking figures released by the World Health Organization suggest that as many as one in three women have suffered domestic abuse in their lifetime.
The clip is the work of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi Belgrade. Describing the creative vision for the campaign, it said, “Domestic violence is one of most widespread, but hidden problems in society today. It is happening to people you know and gets worse over time. Our challenge was to break that silence!”
The video was created, then, with the intention of waking up a nation from its apathy toward domestic violence. During the year the video was released, for instance, 29 women lost their lives in cases of domestic abuse in Serbia.
Accordingly, the shocking content of the video was deliberately intended to generate a reaction from viewers. Indeed, with the controversy it set out to cause, Saatchi & Saatchi Belgrade said it aimed to “inform [the] public about the problem” and “educate on long-term trauma it inflicts on victims and encourages victims to seek help.”
Of course, this is not a localized problem, and as viewers widely shared the video across social media platforms, the montage very quickly attracted a global audience. In fact, it had been viewed more than three million times within a week.
Still, this can only be a good thing, as in the United States alone, according to statistics from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20 people suffer some form of physical abuse by a partner every 60 seconds. Shockingly, that figure actually represents a significant drop over the last ten years.
Perhaps surprisingly, the victims are not always women. While an estimated third of women suffer violence in a relationship in their lifetime, a CDC report found that around 25 percent of men will also be victims of domestic abuse at the hands of a partner.
Domestic violence also accounted for a fifth of all violent crime in the United States over a ten-year period near the start of this century. And although abuse between romantic partners isn’t the only form of domestic violence, it is the most common.
These sobering statistics undoubtedly don’t get close to painting the full, shocking picture of domestic violence. For instance, while the figures appear to have dropped over a decade, they don’t take into account the number of cases that remain unreported.
So, as well as raising awareness of domestic violence in Serbia, local charity B92 also hoped to raise funds to build more safe houses for domestic abuse victims in the country. At present, there are no such facilities provided by the Serbian government in its capital, Belgrade.
The attention the video has earned, however, is seemingly creating positive changes in the country. Since the campaign was launched, for example, the issue of domestic violence has once again been brought to the forefront of the national agenda. As a result, Serbia will gain two new shelters for women.
Meanwhile, in the final image of the video, the woman’s face appears to be so badly beaten that her eye is almost completely swollen shut. A symbolic insinuation, perhaps, that domestic abuse is not a subject to which anyone should turn a blind eye.
The film ends with the woman holding up a harrowing note to the camera, written in Serbian. The message translates as, “Help me, I don’t know if I will survive until tomorrow.”
It’s a message that sadly rings true. After all, a horrifying number of murders in Serbia occur as a direct result of domestic violence. In fact, it’s thought that around 30 per cent of homicides in the country occur because of this abuse. Incidentally, that figure in the United States is 1 percent.
The U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a confidential service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can give advice and support while also allowing callers to connect with resources and agencies across the country that can offer direct help.
Though the video isn’t a real-life documentation of domestic violence, it still delivers a powerful and hard-hitting message. The cuts and bruises might not be real, but the prevalence of domestic violence around the world sadly is.