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Social Media Star of The Week: The TikTok hand signal

The symbolic “wave” for help that was born on social media has today helped rescue a kidnapped teenager
The gesture was created as a way to help domestic violence victims reach out for help, and went viral soon after
Published on Nov 20, 2021 08:26 PM IST
ByUrvee Modwel

Travelling against her will through Kentucky, USA, in a silver car, a 16-year-old girl repeatedly made a gesture through the passenger seat window, hoping someone would realise she was signalling for help.

The silent, one-handed gesture simply involves tucking your thumb into your palm and closing your fingers over it. Invented by the Canadian Women’s Foundation at the start of the pandemic, as a way for domestic violence victims to show they need help over video calls, it went viral on TikTok, and other platforms over the past year. That’s how somebody recognised it and called 911. The police responded, the 61-year-old driver was arrested, and the girl was reunited with her family.

Safe signals

When it comes to women’s safety, discreet hand gestures, codes, and signs have been around for years. But social media and technology are helping to amplify things rapidly. In another known case of the signal being used successfully, YouTuber Om Sayf, who has over five million subscribers, posted a video in which she said she was quitting YouTube, and made the hand signal. Authorities later confirmed that she was safe.

How to make the gesture for help

Would this work in India? Nayana Chowdhury, director, programs, Breakthrough India, says, “First, the victim should know this gesture. That can be solved because we have WhatsApp and Reels, even if we don’t have TikTok. The more difficult part is what the passerby did: she actually intervened, and called the police.”

Response ready

Even then, India still has a long way to go. “There is the question of the response mechanism. Let’s say a passerby goes to the police. Is our system ready to respond? Do they understand the implications of violence?” questions Nayana. “Only if we believe that violence is everybody’s problem will it work.”

Follow @modwel on Instagram & @UrveeM on Twitter.

From HT Brunch, November 21, 2021

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