There’s a new universal hand signal that’s going viral on TikTok and it’s one all parents should teach their kids — and know what to do if they see someone do it. The gesture, known as the Signal for Help, is made by facing your palm outward, folding your thumb across your palm, and then closing your fingers over your thumb. It was created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in April 2020 as a way for women trapped at home to ask for help during the COVID pandemic due to the fact that rates of domestic violence increased during lockdown.
Last month, a 16-year-old girl in Kentucky used the signal out a car window to ask for help — her parents had reported her missing earlier that week. A passing driver recognized the sign from TikTok and called authorities. (The driver was later arrested and had driven the teen across multiple states.)
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the signal is something that can be done wordlessly in-person or on a video call without leaving a digital trace. They stress that the signal is something that can help some people, some of the time. If you see someone make the signal, here’s what you should do:
“If you see someone use the Signal for Help, check in with the person safely to find out what they need and want you to do,” says the Canadian Women’s Foundation on their website. “They may want to tell you what is happening. They may ask you to listen and be there for them. They may ask for help finding services.”
The signal does not necessarily mean one should call the authorities right away. But if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency services.
Since it’s gained popularity, many people have been using TikTok to role-play situations in which you might use the signal, both online and in-person.
Some ways you might check in on a person who makes the signal to you or who you suspect needs help could be calling them to check in and asking yes/no questions that they can answer while someone else might be listening (Ex; “Do you need me to call the police?”). Other steps to take include contacting the person and asking how you can support them.
If you have questions about or need help related to domestic or sexual violence, call/text Safe + Sound Somerset’s confidential 24/7 helpline at 866-685-1122.