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Lifestyle

If you see someone making this hand gesture on Zoom, they need your help

How much time have you spent indoors since the pandemic started? For many Americans, work, school and socializing took a digital turn once cities locked down. And thanks to tech like video chat apps and smartphones, things might stay that way for some time.

Social distancing doesn’t have to be boring, though. There are plenty of high-tech tricks you can use to make video calls and meetings more fun. Tap or click here to see a free filter for Zoom that turns you into a comic book character.

Despite how important it is to stay home and slow the spread of COVID-19, not everyone benefits from more time indoors. People in dangerous or abusive living situations may end up suffering more. That’s why a women’s philanthropy group has created a hand gesture that survivors could use on video calls to silently signal for help. Here’s why this could save lives.

Signal for Help gives survivors of abuse a powerful tool

In unstable domestic situations, calling for help is easier said than done. Controlling partners, parents or guardians can prevent survivors from accessing their phone or computer. And even if they do have access, there’s no telling if their calls are being monitored. Tap or click here to see how abusers can use stalkerware to control their victims.

That’s why Elizabeth Barajas-Román, president and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, has worked to create a new tool that survivors could use to call for help in times of need. She and a WFN partner group created the Signal for Help hand gesture as a way for vulnerable people to signal to friends and family that they’re in danger through video calls.

The gesture is designed to be silent and discreet — so anyone can do it without attracting too much attention. Barajas-Román, however, advocates using it during private conversations if possible.

The goal with the Signal for Help isn’t to make it a secret gesture but one that anyone can recognize. What’s more, it’s designed so survivors can get the help they need without leaving a trace. There’s no emails, no call history and no chat logs for anyone to pick through.

What should I do if someone makes the Signal for Help to me in a call?

If you see someone flash the Signal for Help, your first instinct might be to call the police. While the intentions behind this are good, calling the police can actually put survivors in danger.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), an abuser could become angry at police presence and harm their victim. Some abusers may even lie to the police about what’s happening, which means the victim is in even more danger once they drive away. The goal, above all, should be to get them to safety.

When a person makes a Signal for Help, the first thing you should do is silently acknowledge it with a head nod or similar gesture. Then, once your call has ended, contact the NDVH and explain the situation to a representative. Based on what you tell them, they may be able to help you coordinate a plan of action to get your contact to safety.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available by phone at 1-800-799-7233.

You can also talk to an advocate over chat by visiting The Hotline’s official website and clicking Chat Live Now.

A hand gesture may seem like a simple action, but it’s a step forward in helping protect survivors of abuse and violence. And now that you know the signal, you may be able to help someone in need the next time you recognize it.

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