(NEXSTAR) – Police in Kentucky recently said a missing 16-year-old girl was able to silently signal for help by using a simple hand gesture she learned on social media — a hand gesture that, luckily, a nearby motorist happened to be familiar with.
The gesture, known as the “Signal for Help” hand signal, was created in April 2020 by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in response to anticipated reports of domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arguably, however, the gesture has reached a much wider audience on TikTok, where tutorials explaining the significance and uses for the signal have been viewed millions of times.
TikTok just happens to be where the missing 16-year-old learned the gesture that alerted a nearby driver to her predicament. It’s also where the driver learned what it meant, police suggested.
“This is probably the best thing I’ve seen come along in the 48 years I’ve been a patrol officer,” Officer Gilbert Acciardo, the public affairs officer for the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky, told The New York Times.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation recognized the need for such a gesture amid the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, citing evidence suggesting a spike in domestic violence during “disaster situations.”
It was originally intended for on video calls, for victims who were stuck at home in an abusive living situation.
“This new reality requires new methods of communication to help those facing gender-based violence,” said Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in an April 2020 press release. “We know that internet and video calling are not readily accessible to some. Shelters and support services are doing everything they can to respond to the surge in violence. Signal for Help seeks to contribute to these efforts.”
The gesture is easy enough to learn and recognize, too. Victims are instructed to first face their palm toward the camera, tuck their thumb inward toward the palm, and enclose the rest of their fingers over the thumb to “trap” it.
Those who think they recognize the Signal for Help are told to “check-in with the person safely to find out what they need,” according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. In situations of more immediate danger, such as the one witnessed in Kentucky, onlookers should immediately call the authorities.
There are, of course, other ways for the victims of domestic abuse to safely get help during an abusive situation. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, for instance, offers the option to text or chat with an operator, rather than call. Local support centers may also offer similar services.
Knowing this hand signal, meanwhile, is one more way to help in the fight against domestic abuse.
“It was really relieving to hear that this young woman was able to do this and that people understood what was going on and that they were able to call for help in that circumstance,” Andrea Gunraj of the Canadian Women’s Foundation said in a statement shared to social media.