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Watch for this sign that someone needs help:

It’s simple, and it could save a life. The Canadian Women’s Foundation developed the Violence at Home Signal for Help as a way for women or girls isolated during the pandemic to silently indicate while on a video call that they feared abuse. The idea was that without saying anything, someone experiencing any kind of abuse — physical, emotional, financial, psychological — could hold up a hand, tuck her thumb across her palm and fold her fingers down around it to ask for help.

As the signal has come to be more widely shared and understood, it’s also been used out in public for the same reason — it’s easy to use without the victimizer knowing, whether while his attention is elsewhere or in a victim’s brief moments on her own in a store or a locked car. It’s spreading around the world, although as it does so, there’s greater risk abusers will become familiar with it — no one’s suggesting it’s an answer to abuse, but it’s another tool to help.

What should you do if you see a girl or woman appealing to you by using the gesture? Although your first instinct might be to call for help, that may not be what she’s looking for. (The CWF says the signal should be understood to mean “reach out to me safely” rather than “call 9-1-1.”) She may just want someone to listen, or she may be new to the area and need to know where she can go on her own to get help. Of course, if you see that she’s in immediate danger, calling for emergency services is the right thing to do.

If you ever see the signal, the best move is to approach the woman using it when it’s safe to do so and ask what she needs, either in person or by phone, text or social media. Be sure to start the conversation in an innocuous way in case the abuser is monitoring it. It’s also a good idea to ask if she wants you to stay in touch, or if you feel she’s not able to communicate safely, go ahead and check in from time to time regardless.

We fervently hope you never need to use this signal yourself. Now that you know about it, keep an eye out, and think about how you’d respond if you ever see a woman silently appeal to you for help.

For more information, see https://canadianwomen.org/signal-for-help/

By Nancy Payne