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Image / Agenda / Breaking Stories

Do you know the domestic violence signal? A missing teenager used it to alert passing a motorist that she was in trouble


By Lauren Heskin
11th Nov 2021

Pranav Jassi / Pexels

Do you know the domestic violence signal? A missing teenager used it to alert passing a motorist that she was in trouble

One motorist recognised it after seeing the signal explained on TikTok and contacted 911.

Are you familiar with the symbol for domestic violence? Its a repetitive moment with palm facing out, tucking your thumb into your palm, closing your four fingers over it and repeat.

But would you recognise it as a car sped past you? A driver in Kentucky in the US did see it from a teenage girl who was the passenger in a car. Calling 911, he explained he had seen the signal on TikTok and knew it was the sign for domestic violence. Giving a description of the car, he also noted that the girl looked to be in some distress. The vehicle was later pulled over by police, who also saw the girl giving the gesture.


They soon discovered that she was a 16-year-old from a nearby town who had been reported missing and the driver a 61-year-old male was arrested at the scene. Police later admitted that prior to the incident, they had never heard of such a symbol, so where did it come from?

Domestic violence during Covid-19

The gesture was first introduced by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in 2020, following the huge surge in domestic violence cases during lockdown, both here in Ireland and across the world. A Safe Ireland report found that 3,450 women and 589 children who had never contacted the services before, got in touch between March and September 2020, with daily calls increasing by 25% almost overnight.


Anticipating the rise in domestic abuse that typically occurs in disaster situations, the gesture was designed as a way for people stuck at home to be able to silently plead for help without drawing the attention of anyone else who might be in the proximity.

TikTok connection

So where does TikTok come in? At the beginning of the pandemic, many domestic abuse charities and helplines flagged the inevitable rise in domestic abuse calls that would occur, raising public awareness and increasing conversations about how to intervene. Irish people will have heard government campaign ads on the radio and television suggesting that ignoring evidence of domestic or sexual abuse is no longer acceptable.

As a result, a number of videos explaining the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s gesture went viral on TikTok, with thousands of videos republishing the clip above and word spread to many who would not have otherwise sought out information on social media. The Business Insider found one video with over 3.5 million views.

Social media may be an addictive and confidence-sucking time pit but perhaps the endless scroll has its bright spots, bringing knowledge and power to casual users.

If you would like to speak to someone, there’s a free national helpline available on 1800 341 900 and information on local domestic abuse services can be found here