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TikTok distress signal

Domestic violence signal for help.

Just one hand gesture, a simple tucking of the thumb into the palm and covering it with fingers, was all it took to save a life. And now, the new SOS signal is making headlines with the aim of having it universally known and to save others.

This hand gesture was created by the Canadian Women's Foundation to make reaching out for help easier for people at risk of abuse at home during the COVID-19 lockdown. The "Signal For Help" was a silent, yet effective communication tool on video calls. In the video demonstration below, you can see that while the two women talk about banana bread, the real conversation is hidden.


One driver saw a teen using the hand gesture and recognized it from TikTok, where the videos had been going viral. The girl had in fact been abducted and reported missing from North Carolina and had been driven by her captor all the way to Kentucky. Though the girl and her kidnapper were reported to have been acquaintances, and she had gone with him willingly at first, it had quickly become apparent to her that something was off and she needed to get help fast.

Recognizing the covert plea, the driver immediately called the police to report suspicious behavior, then followed the car until deputies were able to stop and make an arrest. According to an article in The New York Times, authorities found that the man's cellphone contained images that "portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner." That man is now charged with first-degree unlawful imprisonment as well as possession of matter portraying sexual performance of a minor. And most importantly, that 16-year-old girl is back home and safe.

It's unclear how long the girl had been calling for help before one person recognized the distress signal, but the need to make it more universally known is apparent. In an interview with CBS News, Darlene Thomas, who runs a support group for domestic violence survivors, likened the signal to flipping the light on for the neighbors, or using a certain code word in a text, saying TikTok is "just another platform" to share this important information.

After the Laurel County Sheriff's Office posted a statement about the arrest on Facebook, one person commented "I mean maybe social media isn't that bad after all! Thank god this girl was saved!!!" Others commented that this should be taught in schools.

Social media is normally a whirling barrage of animal videos, weird memes and overall things to distract us from everyday life. But let's face it, it's our main source of communication and connection. One idea or piece of information can spread worldwide in a millisecond. When we use that to our advantage, social media can add a little more value than a viral tweet. And in cases like this, social media can be a force for good that can actually save lives.

Let this new "Signal For Help" remind us all to stay aware and stay connected. Sometimes the smallest gesture can make the biggest difference.

This article originally appeared on 04.15.19


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