A missing teenage girl from North Carolina was rescued after making a hand gesture towards a motorist signifying that she was a victim of domestic abuse.

The 16-year-old was saved by Laurel County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky last Thursday afternoon.

A driver spotted the girl making the hand signal from a silver car as both vehicles reportedly travelled through a construction area north of London in southeastern Kentucky.

Police said the driver called the police to say they saw a female passenger making the hand gesture - famous on TikTok - to represent domestic violence. They also said the woman appeared to be in distress, and reported that the vehicle was being driven by a male.

The driver who reported the situation to the police continued to update police on the car’s location, allowing cops to swoop in and conduct a traffic stop when the car tried to exit the I-75 road at exit 41.

Police realised the female passenger was a girl who had been reported missing by her parents in Ashville, North Carolina on Tuesday.

In a statement,  Laurel County Sheriff’s Office said they charged 61-year-old James Herbert Brick with “unlawful imprisonment – first-degree; possession of matter sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18 – first offense.”

Brick was taken to the Laurel County correctional center.

What is the hand signal?

A hand signal, #SignalForHelp, was created by the Women’s Funding Network and the Canadian Women’s Foundation to allow victims of domestic violence to discreetly, and untraceably, ask for help.

To make the signal, hold your palm up with your fingers straight. Tuck your thumb in, and then fold your fingers down over your thumb.

Videos spreading the word about the signal went viral on social media last summer with some demonstrating how to make the gesture.

@itsjustbrandon__

#handsignal #domesticabuseawareness #helpisavailable #sharethisvideo @gracekelly_official

@kaylee_marie00

Hand signal's that everyone should know about #domesticabuseawareness #help #savesomeone #askingforhelp

@dentalstruggle

Please share this domestic violence sign...#fyp#donesticviolanceawarness #help#sos #foryourpage #women #weneedjustice #healthcare #care

The gesture was created in response to an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. Violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, worsened during the pandemic.

Exacerbating factors include cramped living conditions, isolation with abusers, and movement restrictions.

According to the UN, one in three women experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner, since the pandemic began.

The new #SignalForHelp gesture isn’t the first hand signal to go viral. In 2015 a campaign that told victims of domestic abuse to draw a black dot on their hand was pulled over fears it would do more harm than good given the abuser may spot the mark.

Other subtle ways people may ask for help

There are a number of other ways people can quietly let others know they are in need of help.

Ask for ANI

In pharmacies, a victim can ask for “Ani”, which stands for "action needed immediately". A trained staff member will then be able to offer the victim a private space and help them access services.

Ask for Angela

Safety initiative Ask for Angela has been rolled out in bars and clubs across England. People who feel unsafe are encouraged to approach members of staff and ask them for “Angela”. A trained staff member will then be able to assist the person.

Silent Solution

If someone dials 999 but it is unsafe to speak to the operator, pressing 55 lets the operator know the call is genuine.

Awareness was raised over the myth that making a silent 999 call will automatically trigger a response following the murder of Kerry Power, who tried to a silent 999 call shortly before she was killed by her ex-partner and stalker in 2013.

That’s why silent callers may now press 55 when prompted to communicate with emergency services. Thames Valley police ask that if it is safe to say one thing, say your location.

iPhone Emergency SOS

iPhone users can trigger an emergency SOS feature which alerts the user’s emergency contacts, shares their current location, and provides the option to call emergency services.

On iPhone 8 and later, press and hold one of the volume buttons until the emergency slider appears. On some iPhones you may need to press one of the volume buttons along with the side button.

On iPhone 7 or earlier, rapidly press the side (or top) button several times until the slider appears.

Navigate to the “Emergency SOS” screen in your iPhone settings to check which buttons you need to press in an emergency. This screen will also allow you to turn on and off auto-call and a countdown sound.

For more information on setting this up on your iPhone, visit Apple’s website. 

For help, contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. You can also chat to them on live chat if it’s difficult to pick up the phone. They also offer a British Sign Language interpreter service.

The NHS also has a list of resources.

If you’re worried someone may find these web pages in your search history, see Women’s Aid’s guide to hiding your tracks online. 

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