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Noticing Signs of Abuse: How a Hand Signal Can Save Lives

At the start of the pandemic, domestic violence hotline calls spiked as family and romantic partners were forced to stay in close quarters. Women in danger could no longer escape their circumstances during their natural daily routines, and support services were closed or flooded with need. In response to these concerns, the Canadian Women’s Foundation created a hand signal that can be used while in the presence of a perpetrator. Initially intended for video calls, the signal involves tucking the thumb into the palm of your hand and bending the fingers down. Several videos featuring celebrities have demonstrated use of the signal and spread it over online media. Research by the foundation found that around 1 in 3 people in Canada knew the signal by July 2020 (

The signal became so popularized that it was recognized immediately in November by a driver passing by an older man with a girl in the backseat. The girl repeated this signal multiple times in the window to alert the onlooker for help. Thanks to the onlooker recognizing the signal, the driver, a 61-year old man, was arrested for kidnapping a minor. Media outlets point to a few other instances where the signal was used to alert people for help, though it has not been as conclusive about evidence that significant change

occurred from its usage.

(A video frame demonstrating use of the hand signal)

Though it is undetermined how often the signal has been used to rescue people in danger, it is important to remember that domestic violence cases are often kept under wraps or do not publicize specific elements that contributed towards the case’s emergence. This hand signal is one small, easy piece of knowledge that can be potentially life-saving for a person in distress. A two second action to learn can be quite literally the difference between life and death.

Even with this signal in place, we must be perceptive to visual signs of physical or emotional danger. Victims in the way of active harm may not know the DV hand signal, or may not feel safe or confident enough to escape their circumstances. WebMD shares that signs of domestic abuse in others may look like :

  • Excuses for injuries

  • Personality changes, like low self-esteem in someone who was always confident

  • Constantly checking in with their partner

  • Never having money on hand

  • Overly worried about pleasing their partner

  • Skipping out on work, school, or social outings for no clear reason

  • Wearing clothes that don’t fit the season, like long sleeves in summer to cover bruises


If you think that someone you know is in danger, you may want to talk to them about concerns you’ve noticed. If they are unwilling to seek help or you sense they are in imminent trouble, reach out to the national domestic violence hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE, or the New York City specific hotline: 1-800-621-HOPE. Hotline staff can provide those concerned about a DV case with advice on how to best approach their circumstance. They can also connect victims with financial, therapeutic, and legal resources to support their needs and assign an individual advocate to work with. All services are confidential and the safety of the victim is maximum priority.

Below is a diagram of the DV hand signal. Learn it and spread it!

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