How the 'signal for help' TikTok hand motion that led to a missing 16-year-old girl reportedly being saved went viral

three panels, all showing a video calling interface with a blonde woman and a small image f a brown-haired woman in the upper-right corner. The blonde woman is making three gestures with her hand in the panels: one with open palm, one with her thumb tucked into her palm, and one where her fingers are curled over her palm. this is the signal for help.

A video from the Canadian Women’s Foundation demonstrates how to use the “Signal for Help” on a video call.

  • A missing North Carolina teenager was reportedly rescued after using a viral hand signal.
  • The “signal for help” was launched by the Canadian Women’s Foundation and went viral on TikTok.
  • It’s meant to signal that someone is being abused and needs help.

On Thursday, a missing North Carolina teenager was reportedly rescued after she invoked a hand gesture that had previously gone viral on TikTok, indicating that she needed help.

The 16-year-old had been reported missing by her parents in Asheville, North Carolina on Tuesday, and was found in Kentucky after a 911 caller noticed that she had made the signal while riding as a passenger in a car, the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office reportedly said, according to Fox 8 Cleveland.

Authorities arrested a 61-year-old whom the teenager was traveling with and charged him with unlawful imprisonment and possession of content showing sexual activity by a minor, Fox 8 Cleveland reported.

The hand signal has spread on TikTok over the last year, after it was popularized by the “Signal for Help” campaign, launched in April 2020 by the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), a Canadian public foundation dedicated to advancing women’s equality.

“It’s relieving that people recognized it and responded in this context of immediate danger,” Andrea Gunraj, the Vice President of Public Engagement at the CWF, told Insider of its reported use in Kentucky.

Here’s how the signal originated in 2020 and spread on TikTok.

The ‘Signal for Help’ was designed to account for a possible surge in domestic violence during the pandemic

The CWF said it launched the “Signal for Help” campaign to spread awareness about the hand gesture, which people experiencing domestic violence can use to signal that they need help. The CWF originally proposed the signal as a tool to be used during video calls amid concerns that the pandemic and home isolation recommendations could lead to a surge in gender-based violence and increased risk for those in abusive relationships, according to the foundation’s website.

According to the United Nations, violence against women and girls – particularly domestic violence – did grow during the pandemic.

The signal includes showing your full hand, tucking your thumb onto your palm, and then closing your first, as the CWF showed last year in a YouTube video.

The CWF recommended at launch that if someone used the Signal for Help, friends should check in with them to better understand the situation and call 911 if the person asks.

Posts about the ‘Signal for Help’ have gone viral on TikTok in 2020 and 2021

As Insider previously reported, posts about the “Signal for Help” began to circulate on TikTok in mid-2020, with some going viral on the platform.

One post from the user @forsure7, uploaded in June 2020, shows a sample video call in which one woman uses the signal while speaking with someone. The video has been viewed approximately 3.6 million times and has 1.1 million likes. The user did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the months since, some TikTok users have worked to spread awareness about the signal, helping it go viral in the process.

In March, TikTok user Cat Dang (@kittycatdang) duetted a video from the account @derwunderling showing a young girl invoking the hand signal while walking through a hallway with an older man. It went viral, amassing 2.5 million likes and 9.3 million views. Dang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other videos dramatize scenarios in which people use the signal to grab the attention of strangers. These videos typically feature dramatic rescues and immediate calls to the police, though the CWF doesn’t recommend that immediate response.

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