Women’s safety: TikTok’s #SignalForHelp gesture just saved a young woman from danger – here’s how to use it

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Lauren Geall
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The #SignalForHelp gesture – which has been shared countless times on TikTok over the last 24 months – was used by a 16-year-old kidnapping victim to seek help just last week (4 November).     

Despite being a platform famed for easy hair hacks and quick make-up tips, TikTok has also been home to a number of important conversations since it rose to popularity in 2020 – including discussions about domestic abuse and women’s safety.

As well as giving space for women to simply share their experiences, the platform has also become a place for users to share personal safety advice and discuss how to keep others safe. And it’s the kind of stuff that has real-life consequences.

Just last week (4 November), a hand signal shared on the platform to help domestic abuse victims during lockdown was used by a 16-year-old kidnapping victim to show a passing driver that she was in danger. The driver, who noticed the gesture from videos they had also watched on TikTok, then called the police, who intercepted the vehicle near a Kentucky interstate. 

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The man driving the 16-year-old – who has been named as James Herbert Brick, 61 – was then arrested at the scene and charged with unlawful imprisonment. 

The girl, who had been reported missing by her parents two days previously, said she had travelled with the man through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.

The #SignalForHelp gesture reportedly used by the girl was launched by the Women’s Funding Network and the Canadian Women’s Foundation during the early days of the pandemic in order to address a rise in gender-based domestic violence against women, girls, trans and non-binary people during lockdown. 

The signal – which involves putting your palm up before tucking your thumb in and closing your fingers over the top – went viral on TikTok and social media over the last year as a way for a person to silently alert family members, friends or colleagues that they need help while answering the door or during a Zoom call. 

The #SignalForHelp hashtag, which has been used by TikTok users to share the gesture online, has 23.7 million views at the time of writing, with thousands of videos underneath detailing how to use the gesture to seek help.

One such video – which has over 1 million likes and 130,000 shares – shows a woman subtly using the gesture to alert a friend during a Facetime call. 

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Another, posted by the Canadian’s Women’s Foundation, gives tips on what to do if you see the signal being used, such as giving the person a call and asking yes/no questions about what they’d like you to do next.

While it’s worth noting that the onus shouldn’t be on women to keep ourselves safe – and that we should be focusing on preventing male violence, not intervening once it’s already underway – it’s amazing to see such a simple gesture making such a big difference thanks to the power of social media.

To learn more about the #SignalForHelp campaign, you can visit the Canadian Women’s Foundation website.

The 24-hour National Domestic Abuse helpline can be contacted on 0808 2000 247 and further support can be accessed online via their website

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.