A Missing Teen Was Rescued After Using a TikTok Hand Signal for Help—Here's What to Do If You See It

A missing 16-year-old teen was rescued by police after she used a hand signal she learned from TikTok that is meant to indicate someone is experiencing domestic abuse and needs help.

Local police rescued a missing 16-year-old girl in Kentucky after she used a hand signal popularized on TikTok meant to signify domestic abuse or violence, authorities say.

On November 4, a highway driver recognized the hand signal and called 911, informing the dispatcher the female passenger appeared to be in distress, according to a news release by the Laurel County Sheriff Department.

Officers then arrested and charged the driver—61-year-old James Herbert Brick—with unlawful imprisonment and possession of matter showing a sexual performance by a minor. He is still in prison on a $10,000 bond.

Investigators learned the teen's parents had reported her missing on November 2. She told the officers Brick had driven her from her home in Ashville, North Carolina to his relatives in Ohio.

"When the male subject's relatives realized that the female in his custody was underage and reported missing, [he] left Ohio, travelling southbound," the news release states. This is when the girl started using the hand signal in an attempt to notify other motorists she needed help.

According to the Lexington Herald Leader, arrangements were made for her to return home to her family the next day.

The Signal for Help was launched by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Courtesy of Canadian Women's Foundation

Where did the hand signal come from and what does it mean?

The hand signal, called the 'Signal for Help,' was created during spring of 2020 by the Canadian Women's Foundation in response to the increase of domestic violence that occured over the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, it has been popularized on social media platforms like TikTok.

"The Signal for Help is one tool some people may be able to use, some of the time, to indicate they need help without leaving a digital trace," the organization's website says.

The Signal for Help uses only one hand so as to be discreet, and is comprised of three parts:

  1. Facing the palm towards the camera or person someone is asking to help
  2. Tucking the thumb into the palm
  3. Trapping the thumb with the other fingers
Signal For help
How to do the Signal for Help. Canadian Women's Foundation

What should I do if I see the Signal for Help?

According to the Canadian Women's foundation, the signal does not always mean that you should call the authorities, but instead signifies "reach out to me safely." Therefore, if you see the hand signal, you should check in with a person to find out what they need or what they want you to do.

"The person using the Signal may want a number of things. They may want to talk or they may want information. They may want you to call the authorities, but do not assume that is what they want or need. Let them take the lead. Someone in an unsafe situation is the expert on what is safest for them," the organization website says.

If it's not readily clear how the person wants you to help try calling them and asking "yes" or "no" questions like:

  • Would you like me to call 911?
  • Would you like me to call a shelter on your behalf?
  • Should I look for some services that might help you and call you back?

You can also reach out to them over text, social media, and email. However, ask general questions as abusers may be monitoring their accounts. Here are some examples of messages that are generally safe to send:

  • How are you doing?
  • Do you want me to reach out regularly?
  • Get in touch with me when you can

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all protocol when it comes to helping someone who is facing abuse. Therefore, the most important thing you can do is follow their lead in a supportive, non-judgmental way.

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