BETHEL PARK, Pa. (KDKA-TV) - People are using a hand gesture that says "I need help" to alert friends, family and even law enforcement of a violent situation without alerting their abusers. The signal, popularized on TikTok, is now spreading across local police departments.
This week, a 16-year-old girl learned the hand signal on TikTok and police say it saved her life. She's now safe, with her alleged kidnapper in jail.
"So, it's a very simple tool that you can use and one of the things that really inspired it is whenever folks are living with abuse or violence, the person that is doing the abuse often monitors their emails, their cells phones," said Suzanne Duncan, the vice president of philanthropy for the Canadian Women's Foundation.
Those are all of the things we relied on during the pandemic. Suzanne Duncan says the Canadian Women's Foundation created the signal last April. It posted a video to promote the new hand gesture and it went viral on TikTok. "We knew that there would be a spike in gender-based violence because unfortunately whenever there's a disruption or natural disaster, we see rates of gender-based violence go up across the world," Duncan told KDKA-TV.
TikTok users got a hold of the signal and started spreading the word. News of the hand gesture landed on Chief Timothy O'Connor's desk Tuesday. "I received it this morning via email from the IACP, International Association of the Chiefs of Police," said O'Connor. "They sent out a daily summary of law enforcement articles to chiefs around the world."
The top story today? The 16-year-old girl who flashed the hand gesture, eventually escaping her accused kidnapper when someone recognized the gesture and called 911. "Prior to me reading this article this morning, I was not aware that there was such a gesture," said O'Connor. "I think it is a good thing to come up with that as a distress signal to alert the public."
He said if you see the signal in our area, jot down these couple things: "A description of the occupants of that vehicle and especially the person making that gesture, and description of that vehicle, including a plate if you can get it, and direction of travel."
He tells KDKA he's taking this knowledge to his department.
"I'm going to alert our officers here at Bethel Park and also our Crime Watch group, we meet once a month and we also have a monthly email that we send out to over 1,000 residents that have signed up for it, so we will get the word out," he said.
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