Tennessee woman uses viral TikTok hand signal to escape kidnapping

The woman used the hand signal to alert fellow convenience store shopper that she needed help

Abe Asher
Thursday 14 April 2022 20:20
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<p>TikTok’s logo </p>

TikTok’s logo

A Tennessee woman used a viral TikTok hand signal to alert a fellow convenience store shopper that she was in distress and needed help on Sunday.

That fellow shopper, Eric Streeval, was the right man to help. Mr Streeval, who is reportedly part of a motorcycle club that assist women in domestic violence situations, recognised the hand signal and responded – taking a picture of the license plate of the truck the woman had been traveling in and telling the convenience store cashier to call 911.

“If you see something, say something,” Mr Streeval told WKRN in Nashville. “Domestic violence is a bad thing here in Tennessee. The victims, a lot of times they’re too afraid to speak out. And I credit the young lady in this situation with having the world’s most courage of actually speaking out because who knows what would have happened.”

Police pursued the vehicle the woman had been traveling in until the driver, identified as 31-year-old Jonathan Smith, crashed, was Tasered, and then arrested. Mr Smith has been charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated domestic assault.

Eric Streeval, who recognised the woman’s signal of distress.

The woman’s ability to signal for help was in no small part due to a hand signal created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic for people in domestic violence situations to discretely signal that they are in need of help.

The hand signal, which is made by placing the palm of the hand outward, tucking the thumb into the palm, and then bringing the four other fingers down over the thumb, was popularised on social media platforms like TikTok in the spring of 2020.

The signal, developed in part for its distinctiveness in concert members of the deaf community, has gained substantial recognition in Canada and has been used in countries around the world.

This incident in Hickman County, Tennessee, southwest of Nashville, is not the first time that the hand signal has been used to meaningful effect in the US. In November, 2021, a 16-year-old girl in North Carolina used the hand signal to escape an apparent kidnapping.

Incidents of domestic violence increased significantly in the US and around the world during the period of Covid-19 lockdowns, making the popularisation of distress signals like this one all the more important. In this case in Tennessee, the woman was able to escape physically unharmed.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

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