Why “Abused Emojis” Are Heartbreaking — & So Necessary

Here at R29, we get pretty excited every time the emoji gods grace us with a new set of symbols to express our moods, bacon cravings, or (finally) diversity. New emoji via a free iPhone app from Swedish nonprofit BRIS are the pictorial lexicon's most somber addition yet, and they're meeting a serious need. BRIS, which runs a national hotline for children and teens, created "Abused Emojis" as a tool for children and young people to communicate situations of abuse, mistreatment, and hurt without having to literally spell them out. "A complex reality demands a complex set of symbols," the Abused Emojis website explains. "The Abused Emojis make it possible for kids and young people to talk about situations where they felt bad or wrongly treated, without having to put words on the situation." "Kids' issues range from issues about how to fit in or feeling awkward to really dark and heartbreaking stories about violence, sexual abuse...bullying, and suicidal thoughts," BRIS' director of communication Silvia Ernhagen told us. "We also know that many children have difficulties in putting words to their problems, so this is a way to help them to express themselves as well as encouraging them to actually speak about their feelings and ask for help when necessary." While the Abused Emojis were designed with youth in mind, many of the scenarios they represent — including verbal abuse, cutting, and suicidal thoughts — are applicable across generations, and it's not just children who struggle to talk about these experiences. With people of all ages reliant on texting and online channels to communicate, increasing our emoji vocabulary to speak to darker truths could prove a powerful move to stem the silence and shame that plague many abuse survivors. Yes, these symbols may be misappropriated in some contexts by trolls, but these days, what isn't? "Abused Emojis" have the potential to form potentially life-saving lines of communication.

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