The #SignalForHelp gesture that saved a teenage kidnap victim

If you thought TikTok was all about weird skincare hacks and synchronized dance routines, you’d be mistaken.

The social networking site has also been a platform for discussions on women’s safety, ranging from domestic violence to the threat women face when walking the streets alone. In turn the #SignalForHelp – a hand signal which tells others you need assistance without alerting the perpetrator – has been developed, and according to reports it recently helped a 16-year-old kidnap victim in the US to escape her captors.

Sky reports that the missing teenager was inside a silver Toyota near Kentucky Interstate when she gestured to a passing driver that she needed help. The signal involves putting up your palm, before tucking in your thumb then closing your fingers.

The motorist in the other vehicle recognised the #SignalForHelp from social media, and phoned the police, who intercepted the other vehicle and arrested the driver. James Herbert Brick, 61, was charged with unlawful imprisonment of the teenager. She had been reported missing by her parents two days previously.

The teenager said she had travelled with the man through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.

The #SignalForHelp gesture is believed to have been first introduced by the Canadian Women’s Foundation last year – largely in response to fears that domestic violence would rocket during lockdowns. It has been adopted by women around the world who need to discreetly ask for help, or show they are in distress.

Clips showing women using the signal on video calls with friends have also gone viral, showing the real-world situations in which it can be used.  One video, for example, shows a woman subtly using the gesture to alert a friend during a Facetime call. The video has had over 1 million likes and 130,000 shares.