What is the ‘international’ hand signal to indicate you are in danger and where does it come from?

Hand gesture was created at the start of Covid lockdown as a way for domestic violence victims to seek help

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Monday 08 November 2021 18:51
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The ‘international’ hand signal that can be used to indicate you are in danger.mp4

A missing 16-year-old girl was rescued after using a simple hand gesture that can silently signal that you are in danger or need help, prompting many to reshare social media videos of the sign.

The hand signal, which has become recognised as an international signal of help, was first created by the Women’s Funding Network in connection with the Canadian Women’s Foundation at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown as a way for domestic abuse victims to indicate non-verbally that they needed help.

The signal, which is meant to be made with one hand, sees an individual face their palm outward to the camera or other person before tucking their thumb inwards and closing their remaining fingers on top to make a fist.

At the time, the organisations launched the signal as part of the #SignalForHelp campaign, with the Women’s Funding Network stating: “The combination of increased isolation in quarantine, and increase in the use of video communication, created a critical need for a widely recognised, discreet, way a survivor could reach out for help.”

People on social media began widely sharing the signal following the disappearance of Sarah Everard, whose abduction and murder during a walk home in Clapham, south London, in March sparked a global conversation about women’s safety.

Read more: How can men support women against misogyny and violence?

In one video shared to Twitter by restaurateur Harjinder Singh Kukreja, which has since been viewed more than 5m times, it shows how the symbol can be used in a number of situations to signify help is needed, with the clip depicting it being used by a woman, a man and a child.

“Everyone should know the international sign for Help me. Let’s make this famous #HelpMe,” Kukreja captioned the video.

The video, as well as one created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, has prompted thousands of people to share the video with their own followers, with many acknowledging the importance of making the signal widely recognised.

“This is the international signal for Help Me. Learn it. Watch for it. Show this to others,” one person tweeted.

Another said: “The international sign for Help me. Please learn it. Pass it on. It may help save a life.”

“Learn this, teach this, see this,” someone else wrote.

As for what to do if someone shows you the symbol, Elizabeth Barajas-Román, the president and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, previously told Vogue that those on the other end of a call for help can ask yes or no questions, so as to remain discreet, as well as questions like: “Do you want me to reach out to you directly?” and: “Can I check in with you?”

In addition to the safety measure, Ms Everard’s case has also seen women sharing the safety tactics they rely on to feel safe while walking alone or at night, as well as the victim-blaming comments women are often subjected to.

Ms Everard’s disappearance has also prompted a renewed call for men to do more in terms of supporting women against misogyny and violence, with one Twitter thread asking what men can do to make women feel safer.

The push to make the hand signal widely recognisable comes after UK pharmacies announced a codeword scheme in collaboration with the government earlier this year, which would provide a “lifeline” to domestic abuse victims.

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