How a US kidnapping gave hope in the global fight against domestic violence

The hand gesture used by the teenager in Kentucky to signal that she needed help. The Canadian Women’s Foundation

Earlier this month, a missing teenage girl was rescued from a car in Kentucky when a passing driver noticed her making a hand gesture that has been popularised on TikTok as a signal of domestic distress.

This was the most high-profile instance of the hand signal’s successful use and has prompted hopeful commentary that the sharing of secret signals on social media could serve as a vital tool against domestic violence.

And so, on Thursday, the UN’s annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence kicked off with renewed hope. This year, the international campaign has a fresh focus on hand signals and how they can be used by women and girls in distress to seek — and gain — crucial help.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation, a non-profit that created the gesture used in the case in Kentucky, in the US — hand up, palm out with the thumb tucked in, and then fingers folded down — in April 2020 believes that signalling is important. To coincide with 16 Days, it has now compiled a guide for people who see the gesture.

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Rashmee Roshan Lall

Rashmee Roshan Lall

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Sign up for free email updates on email me at

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