The hand gesture that saved a life — and could save another

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — TikTok, the social media platform known for dances and funny videos, is now being credited for saving a girl in Kentucky. A simple hand gesture made popular on the site led to her dramatic rescue after being held against her will and taken through multiple states. 

Local law enforcement, much like officers that saved the girl in Kentucky, said they were unaware of the sign or what it means until this story broke.

“But now that we know, we put our hands up like this, that is a signal for help,” said Sgt. John Wittkowski with the Grand Rapids Police Department.

The signal was created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation to indicate that someone is at risk of abuse and needs help. It began during the pandemic to help women in abusive situations. The group was worried about isolation at home increasing dangers for women in an abusive relationship. But now, with the help of TikTok, it has flourished to a universal sign for help.

“In this day and age of virtual meetings and video at almost every turn, if you can’t verbally communicate a need for help a hand signal is hugely important,” said Wittkowski.

In the Kentucky case, the girl flashed the sign out the car window. A person passing recognized it from TikTok and called 911. News media reports the dispatcher and officers were unfamiliar with the hand gesture, but when sheriff’s deputies pulled the car over, they learned the girl’s parents reported her missing two days earlier and the driver was arrested.

“It’s important that this information gets published or produced to the broader public so that everyone is aware if someone provides a signal like this to call 911 and get law enforcement there ASAP,” said Wittkowski. “Who knows whom else this saved or could save.”

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