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A hand signal made popular on TikTok helped save a missing girl. What to do if you see it.

SHARE A hand signal made popular on TikTok helped save a missing girl. What to do if you see it.
The logo for the TikTok app appears on a phone screen.

In this Sept. 28, 2020 file photo, The TikTok app logo appears in Tokyo.

Kiichiro Sato, Associated Press

The girl used the gesture and another driver recognized the call for help, leading to her rescue. Everyone should know this hand signal and what do if they see someone use it.

The story of a 16-year old North Carolina girl reported missing November 2 has shined a spotlight on a hand signal. According to CBS17, two days after her parents reported the teenager missing, a Kentucky driver noticed a girl in a passing car making hand gestures he recognized from TikTok. WSPA published the 911 call where the driver told dispatch the girl was motioning for help. Police were able to pull over and arrest the man driving the girl. She is now back with her family and the 61-year old male driver is charged with several crimes, including kidnapping.

The hand gesture the girl used was created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation as a “Signal for Help.” The group launched it in 2020, anticipating that domestic violence victims may need to use it during quarantine. 

A survey in April 2020 by the University of California Davis found that those who reported intimate partner violence, also felt stress had increased. Researchers found that the financial stresses of COVID-19 led to people having more things to argue about. “In many instances, that type of situation leads to an occasion for intimate partner violence,” the researchers said.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation felt the social isolation measures during the pandemic would make it more difficult for victims of abuse to reach out. The “Signal for Help” is a one-handed sign the Foundation felt anyone could use on a video call or elsewhere to silently show they needed someone to check in. To make the signal, show your palm as if to give a high-five, then tuck the thumb and lower the fingers over it.

Lex18 spoke with Suzanne Duncan, vice president of philanthropy of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. She said they never expected a situation like the 16-year old girl. “That was very clever and resourceful of her to think to use this and it’s such a relief that there were other drivers who were able to recognize this and knew what to do,” Duncan said.

So what should you do if you see someone make that gesture?

The video the Foundation shared on YouTube as an example a year ago was subtle; a woman making the signal while having a casual video chat with a friend. The Foundation suggests checking in with the person safely to find out what they need and want you to do. 

This could mean calling them and asking questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” You could ask if the person would like you to call 911 or if you should call a shelter for them.

Another option would be to use any form of communication to ask general questions about helping or what kind of support the person needs. They suggest asking, “Do you want me to reach out to you directly?” Or “Can I check in with you?”

The Foundation explains the “Signal for Help” doesn’t necessarily mean to call 911 right away. The person may want to talk with you or get more information. But if you believe the person to be in immediate danger, you should call 911, just like the driver did in the missing girl case.

Three months after the Foundation launched the “Signal for Help,” one in three Canadians knew about it. After the North Carolina case earlier this month, authorities in Kentucky where the arrest took place, are also hoping to spread the word.

“This is probably the best thing I’ve seen come along in the 48 years I’ve been a patrol officer,” Gilbert Acciardo told the New York Times. He’s the public affairs officer for the Laurel County Sheriff’s office which admitted they were previously unaware of the hand gesture.

Acciardo also spoke with WHAS11 and said “we think it’s a wonderful tool.” He explained that in this instance, the suspect thought the girl was just waving out the window. “Now that this story has been put out,” he said, “we think people will use this universally as a distress signal and that’s great. Something good came out of all of this.”