Police in Kentucky say that they pulled over and arrested James Brick after someone in the car behind his truck recognised the hand gestures and called 911.
Mr Brick, 61, was charged with unlawful imprisonment after being stopped in Laurel County, Kentucky, with the missing youngster in his back seat.
During the investigation, deputies say they also located a phone in Mr Brick’s possession that allegedly portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner, and he was also charged with possession of matter sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18.
The Laurel County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that the teenager had used the gestures, which have been posted on TikTok and other social media platforms, that “represent violence at home – I need help – domestic violence.”
Officials say that the teenager had been reported missing by her parents in Asheville, North Carolina. last week.
According to the teenager, she had traveled with Brick through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, the sheriff’s department said in a statement.
He is being held in the Laurel County Correctional Centre.
The department did not share what sign the teen used, but advocates have encouraged people in distress to use hand signals to discreetly ask for help.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation has said that a universal signal for help can be made by facing the palm of one hand forward, with the thumb tucked in and the other fingers closed over it to “trap” it.
The foundation says the signal does not mean people must call the police, but it an indication to “reach out to me safely”.
People in distress have been encouraged to use the hand signal when they cannot speak openly about a dangerous situation they may be in.
“The Signal for Help is a tool that may help some people, some of the time. Some people do not have the ability to make video calls. Please find other resources, services, and programs... that may be helpful in an unsafe situation at home,” the foundation states.