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'Help Me:' A Rise In Domestic Violence During The Pandemic Brought About A Signal For Help

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The pandemic spawned a secondary and tragic crisis.

A dramatic increase in domestic violence as victims have been shut in with their abusers.

Nicole Molinaro, CEO of Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh says, "You know we have seen from our clients just an absolutely heartbreaking increase in severity and frequency of domestic violence."

She says it's not over.

"There's a lot of people still working from home," Molinaro says. "There's a lot of people still dealing with the immediate repercussions of the pandemic and of this increased abuse"

Out of this dangerous condition has emerged a hand signal being called "Help Me."

It started in Canada last year and is spreading now across the United States.

It may answer the quandary of the abused of how to reach out for help when they are being constantly watched.

The signal is making the rounds of social media showing a victim holding their hand up, folding their thumb into the palm, and closing the other fingers over the thumb.

Molinaro says signals come with some concerns.

"Those can be very difficult, because if the other person on the other end doesn't know what they're trying to do, it can be so confusing and can lead to actually additional safety issues," she says. "Everybody has to know what that signal is. And when you're talking about everybody that would mean that the abusers know about the signal as well."

So the victim has to weigh the risk of using the sign.

"A hand signal could be, used over Zoom, etc...could be implemented, safely, and it could be used safely, but there are high chances that it might not be," Molinaro says. "Every single situation is different, which makes this very complicated because of course domestic violence is a pattern of power and control."

This means caution is important for the victim and for the potential rescuer.

"The hand signal was very clear to say that the hand signal will work for some people, in some situations," she says.

For those who see someone signaling for help Molinaro says, "Most importantly, whenever somebody does reach out for help, please believe them, that's absolutely critical."

She says so many times people are quick to dismiss what they are seeing, especially if they know the people involved.

WATCH: What To Do If You See The "Help Me" Hand Signal

If the signal is being given you should know the person doing it is taking a risk and depending on you to act.

First and foremost Molinaro says don't intervene on your own.

"We want to make sure that the survivor's safety is absolutely prioritized, but we don't want anybody to think there's nothing I can do because there is you can call your local domestic violence program, and just talk it through with somebody," she explains. "If there is obvious danger, obvious physical danger, in any sort of situation we encourage of course calling 911."

Molinaro says the best advice for someone being abused is to set up a way to reach out during a time of calm and when you can safely communicate with someone on the outside.

That could be someone over social media, or a neighbor, or even someone who comes to your home for deliveries on a regular basis. That way when something does happen someone has been made aware of the possibility of needing help.

Remember, there is no way to predict when you might see the "Help Me" signal and you might be that person's only hope to get out of a dangerous situation.

If you need help now reach out to the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh on their website.

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