The “Distress Signal” had already gone viral in 2020 and is now gaining relevance once again, having been used by a minor in the United States to denounce that she was in danger. Like this one, there are several campaigns that move on the Internet, with which it is sought to encourage people to denounce sexist abuse and harassment.
The news about a minor who was rescued in the United States after asking for help through a gesture that is believed, learned on the social network TikTok, has gone viral on social networks, and has made international headlines.
According to authorities, days after the 16-year-old was reported missing, she was seen in the passenger seat of a car traveling through the state of Kentucky. According to the official report, a driver saw her making a gesture with her hand and was able to recognize that it was a request for help, so he contacted the emergency service 911. This allowed the arrest of the 61-year-old subject who was transporting to the young man and now facing kidnapping charges.
The case of this young woman makes this gesture popular again, which consists of bringing the palm of the hand to the front, bending the thumb inwards and then wrapping it with the remaining fingers. It is called the “Signal for Help” or in Spanish “Signal for Help” and it works as a kind of secret code for a person to request support in a discreet way without having to attract attention.
It was created in 2020 by the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF, for its acronym in English) in the face of cases of sexist violence that increased during the pandemic, when women were locked up with their aggressors as a result of confinement measures, and without power openly report your situation. This is what Suzanne Duncan, vice president of Philanthropy at this foundation, told France 24.
“A lot of abusers monitor cell phone use, computer use. So we wanted to find something that wouldn’t leave a digital trail. So that’s where the idea of the help signal came from. We wanted to have a simple hand gesture that someone could do to let others know that I needed help, “he explained.
A new type of content makes its way to social networks
Since the “Distress Signal” came to light, multiple ‘influencers’ and content creators have replicated the message. Their videos, in which they explain how it works, have gone viral, especially those in which they recreate situations where the gesture has served to save the lives of women and children.
Nichelle Laus, for example, was one of the first to publicize the campaign through her social networks. This Canadian is a former police officer and part of her fame on TikTok is due to the videos in which she provides advice on safety and self-defense, and how to get out of dangerous situations. Nichelle spoke with France 24 about the need to continue publishing this type of content.
“I think social media has changed and will continue to change, especially when you see how shocking these things really are (…) if we continue to have content creators on TikTok and ‘influencers’ who post positive things and share knowledge and information that can save lives, it’s going to set a whole new precedent in terms of what people publish, “he said.
They fear that these signs will be recognized by abusers
The fact that this signal enjoys such popularity has also raised questions. According to the CWF, the “Distress Signal” has been adopted by more than 200 organizations in 40 countries, and has been shared on social media millions of times.
This has led Internet users to wonder how effective it will be, if an abuser also learns to recognize it. We conveyed these concerns to Suzanne Duncan, who recalled that this is just one of the many tools that can be used to request help.
He stressed that another positive effect that this campaign has had is that “this story is making people talk about the culture of stigma, and the culture of silence and shame that surrounds gender-based violence.” And he added that “many people are afraid to tell friends and family about what they are going through, because they are afraid of being judged, of not being supported.”
#AskForAngela and order Pizza on 911
Like this one, there are several campaigns that have flooded the Internet for years to help denounce gender violence and harassment in a discreet way.
Are you out in the City for the first time, or meeting someone new?
Always call the police in an emergency pic.twitter.com/pFvLo9g0le
– City of London Police (@CityPolice) November 5, 2021
In 2016, for example, the #AskForAngela campaign was launched in the United Kingdom, which is still in force today and has spread to various parts of the world. It was created to help any woman who thinks she feels at risk in a bar. She can ask the establishment staff for a fictional character named Angela and they will know what to do.
Another famous campaign is called “Pizza 911”. Users on TikTok impersonate a woman who pretends to be ordering a pizza in a restaurant, when in fact she is contacting the emergency service to report an assault. The operator gets the message and sends the police. The video seeks to inspire other women not to remain silent.