woman with hand up, talking to friend on video chat (l) The Violence At Home Signal For Help (c) woman with fingers clasped over thumb, talking to friend on video chat (r)

Canadian Women's Foundation/YouTube

Hand signal that went viral on TikTok reportedly saved a missing teen

A covert signal for domestic violence has been around for the last year.


Audra Schroeder

Internet Culture

Published Nov 9, 2021   Updated Nov 10, 2021, 10:08 am CST

A hand signal developed to aid those experiencing domestic violence during the pandemic reportedly helped locate an abducted 16-year-old. 

The Asheville, North Carolina teenager was rescued last week in Kentucky after a driver traveling behind 61-year-old James Herbert Brick spotted her making the hand signal and called 911. According to a Facebook post, the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office arrested Brick on Nov. 4 and charged him with unlawful imprisonment and possession of material depicting a minor. The post cites that the hand signal is “known on the social media platform ‘Tik Tok’ to represent violence at home,” though the office apparently didn’t know about the signal before the arrest.

The gesture, created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in 2020, is meant to be a covert signal for help in domestic violence situations, especially as video calls became more prevalent during the pandemic, and people were more isolated. 

Videos drawing attention to the gesture—tucking your thumb in and closing your fingers around it—circulated on TikTok over the last year. In January, YouTuber Om Sayf appeared to use the gesture in a vlog, worrying fans. (She was later found safe.)

There’s an alternate version of the gesture on TikTok, which involves waving one hand from behind to get someone’s attention. 


#duet with @youth_flcflagler Recognize the Signal for Help and going along with what they are saying. Then call for help. #DVAM #HelpStartsHere

♬ original sound – youth

Andrea Gunraj, the VP of public engagement at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, told BuzzFeed that TikTok played a major role in getting the signal out there, adding: “What has heartened me is to see people from different communities reuse and remix this in their own communities in a way that makes sense for them.”

If you are a victim of domestic abuse or want more information on domestic violence and resources for victims, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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*First Published: Nov 9, 2021, 12:22 pm CST