Everyone should know this international hand signal for 'Help Me'

One of the scariest things about being trapped in a situation with a dangerous person is how many people don't notice. Abusers, kidnappers, traffickers, and the like often monitor and control a person so tightly that asking for help seems impossible.

There are countless stories of people managing to slip someone a note saying they need help or signaling in some other way that they're in an unsafe situation. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way that they could quickly, yet discreetly, alert people that they were in trouble without flagging the person putting them in danger?

There is. It's the international signal for help, and it's going viral for all the right reasons.


A video shared by Indian restauranter Harjinder Singh Kukreja shows several scenarios in which a person needs help and signals with a simple hand gesture we all need to learn to recognize—or if necessary, use ourselves.

In the video, a woman on a balcony, a man at the door during a delivery, and a girl walking down a hallway with a man all give the signal without their abuser knowing.

The Signal for Help campaign was launched by the Canadian Women's Foundation last April, and has gained traction around the world thanks to the reach of partners such as the Women's Funding Network, the world's largest philanthropic network for girls and women. With the coronavirus pandemic getting into full swing, it was clear that people were going to be spending a lot more time on video calls and people in abusive situations were going to be spending a lot more time with their abusers. The Signal for Help initiative was a way to discreetly communicate via video call that you were in a dangerous situation without having to say a word.

As we saw in the first video, the signal is useful for more than just Zoom calls. The only issue is that this signal only works if people recognize it and know what it means. That's why people are sharing the video and encouraging others to do the same.

What's great about the signal is that it can be done discreetly. Since it only requires one hand, it's more convenient than the American Sign Language sign for "help," which requires two hands. It's simple, subtle, and swift enough to be easy to use in lots of different circumstances (as we see in the videos) but also distinct enough that those who know it will recognize it instantly. It's even something we can teach young children.

We know that domestic violence is a going concern, especially during the pandemic when people are trapped at home with their abusers. We also know that human trafficking is a billion-dollar global industry and that victims are sometimes being transported in broad daylight. The more tools we have for getting people help the better, but first we need to know when someone actually needs help.

Learning and sharing this hand sign far and wide will help spread awareness, enable more victims of violence to ask for help in a safe way, and hopefully even save lives.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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