Bethel Park, Pennsylvania (KDKA-TV) – People use a hand gesture that says “I need help” to alert friends, family, and even law enforcement to a situation of violence without alerting their abusers. The signal, which has been circulated on TikTok, is spread across local police departments.
This week, a 16-year-old girl learned a hand signal on TikTok and police say it saved her life. She is now safe with her alleged kidnapper in prison.
“So it’s a very simple tool that you can use and one of the things that really inspired me is that when people are coping with abuse or violence, the person who is committing the abuse often monitors their emails and their cell phones,” Susan said. Duncan, vice president of philanthropy for the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
These are all things we have relied on during the pandemic. Susan Duncan says the Canadian Women’s Foundation created the sign last April. She posted a video promoting the new hand gesture and it went viral on TikTok. “We knew there was going to be a rise in gender-based violence because unfortunately whenever there is a disturbance or a natural disaster, we see rates of gender-based violence rising around the world,” Duncan told KDKA-TV.
TikTok users got the mention and started spreading the word. News of the hand gesture reached President Timothy O’Connor’s office on Tuesday. “I received it this morning via email from the IACP, the International Association of Chiefs of Police,” O’Connor said. “They sent a daily summary of law enforcement materials to presidents around the world.”
The most important story of the day? The 16-year-old flashing a hand gesture eventually escaped the accused kidnapper when someone recognized the gesture and called 911. “Before I read this article this morning, I didn’t know such a gesture existed,” O’Connor said. “I think it’s a good idea to come up with that as a distress signal to alert the public.”
He said if you see the sign in our neighborhood, write down these two things: “A description of the occupants of that vehicle and especially the person making the gesture, a description of that vehicle, including a nameplate if you can get it, and the direction of travel.”
He tells KDKA that he is taking this knowledge into his department.
“I will alert our officers here in Bethel Park as well as our Crime Watch group, we meet once a month and we also have a monthly email that we send to over 1,000 residents who have signed up, so we’ll get the word out,” he said.