WXXI AM News

Emojis May Help Kids Disclose Abuse

May 26, 2015

Credit image courtesy of Bris

It can be very difficult for children to tell an adult that they have been abused.

Now, technology may play a part in starting these difficult but important conversations.

Bris, a Swedish non-profit, has created several emojis (or emoticons)depicting sad or injured children.

"Mostly children communicate through text messaging and sharing things on their iPhones and iPads. This is a way of putting pictures to words that maybe they're not comfortable saying, " said Mary Whittier, executive director of Bivona Child Advocacy Center.

Whittier says the "Abused Emojis" are an ingenious idea that just might encourage more children to tell someone about their abuse.

"Or it's that first little dip in the water around, 'This is what's going on. I don't want to say that dad is drunk and he just slapped me across the face and now I have a black eye, but I can text you an emoji with a band aid underneath my eye and a picture of a beer mug, with my dad in it.’ ”

Whittier says adults need to be prepared to act if they know a child who shares one of these images.                 

"If you're on the receiving end of something like this, or your son or daughter is on the receiving end, because they are best friends with someone who is being abused or neglected, you need to act upon that. You need to educate yourselves."

According to Bivona Child Advocacy Center, only 10 percent of children who are sexually abused disclose that abuse during their childhood. Ninety percent of the child abuse cases investigated by Bivona involve alleged sexual abuse.

The Abuse Emojis do not include a specific icon depicting child sexual abuse. Whittier said she would be interested to see if there is a way to convey that message with an icon that is not too graphic.