Hand signal that could save someone’s life

By | June 9, 2020

A video uploaded to TikTok has been shared widely on Twitter and other social media platforms, demonstrating a hand signal that can be used by domestic violence victims in need of urgent help.

In the clip, which has been retweeted more than 600,000 times, a woman is shown having a conversation over video call with her friend, while a male can be seen walking around behind her. She continues talking, but holds up her hand in front of the camera discreetly, folding her thumb into her palm and then folding her fingers over her thumb.

“If I see this on a call, I would know to go and check in with that person – safely,” vice-president of public engagement for the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Andrea Gunraj explained.

“It’s just letting them know that ‘I’m here for you, I saw you use the signal, I know what that means, and I can help hook you up to support’.”

The Foundation developed the signal to give victims a safe way to reach out for help during the coronavirus lockdown, which has seen calls to domestic violence, crisis and mental health hotlines increase by tens of thousands in Australia.

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“You have people stuck at home and maybe also someone who is sick with the virus. There are also mounting financial pressures and the general stresses of a pandemic,” Women’s Funding Network president and CEO, Elizabeth Barajas-Román told Vogue.

The Network, which is the world’s largest philanthropic network dedicated to girls and women, launched the “Signal for Help” campaign, with the gesture at its centre, in April, in a bid to serve as a “lifeline” for domestic abuse survivors.

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“This all just adds to the escalation, and we really saw a need to start thinking about new tools that abuse victims can use.”

Ms Barajas-Román said it was important for women who see the symbol to know what to do.

“It’s not just about calling 911 – it’s a complicated issue.”

The Network advise people who are on the receiving end of the signal to ask simple yes or no questions to keep things discreet, as well as questions like “Do you want me to reach out to you directly?” and “Can I check in with you?”

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“This symbol is really a way to say ‘I see you, I’m going to help you’,” she said.

“It’s really important that we get this message out not only around the symbol, but we want everyone to understand how they be of help if they see it.”

She said people had responded and said the signal “was a tool they were looking for and that it was desperately needed”.

A study by Monash University in May, surveying 166 family violence victim support practitioners, found almost 60 per cent said the pandemic had increased the frequency of violence against women. Half of respondents said the severity of violence had increased.

In New South Wales, figures from the state government’s Victims Services program showed an increase in both female and male victims contacting frontline services due to domestic violence, predominantly in Newcastle, Central Sydney, St George, Orange and Wagga Wagga.

“We were finding a real reluctance by women to engage in help right now, seeking to separate. Many women have been telling us they are biding their time for COVID-19 restrictions to lift,” Women’s Safety NSW chief executive Hayley Foster told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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