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A Hand Signal We Should Know

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

I know it's sad to think about violence, but it is empowering to know what you can do.


The Signal for Help was launched by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in response to the social isolation of COVID-19. It's a simple one-handed sign that was created for video call users without being detected by an abuser. The Signal was not meant to call authorities right away. It was meant for the viewer to check in with the person safely to find out what they wanted you to do next. After some exposure by partner organizations, in the media, and on social networks, it is now being used in other situations as well (from inside a car, in a residence window, in public). If you see the signal, consider the circumstances before you act. Watch the one-minute video below to see it used in a video call.

Signal for Help used in an online situation. Video length: 0:60


This can be a delicate situation, even more so with children involved. How you respond depends on the situation, but one thing is clear: Do something!


  • Use another form of direct communication that is not likely to be monitored, such as phone, text, or email.

  • Ask yes or no questions in case someone is listening. Examples: Do you want me to call 911? Do you want me to have the police do a welfare check? Do you want me to send someone to your house? Do you want me/us to come over? Do you want me to check on you later?

  • If you know someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency service (police, fire, ambulance).


If you are able to follow up and they do not answer your yes or no questions, consider calling 911 or request a welfare check from the police. Always consider the circumstances. If it's from someone you know, you may have more options through people you have in common.

If you see the sign from someone you don't know, such as from inside a car, through a home or office window, or in a public place (at the park, in a shopping mall, on a train, in a crowd, on the sidewalk, etc.): Call 911, let them know what you saw, and provide as many details as you can.

When do you intervene? That's a judgment call. Consider your safety and those that you're trying to help.

I spoke with a local sheriff's deputy, and she offered this reminder:

We can't be everywhere. The public is our eyes and ears... Call us, that's why we're here.

By the way, I also saw a video story about a woman calling 911 to order a pizza. Luckily, the 911 operator got it that she needed help. He asked her if the guy was still there. She said: Yes, a large pizza. He asked if she needed medical. She said: No, just pepperoni. He contacted the police.

ANOTHER SHORT VIDEO showing how the signal might be used in different situations. For more, search the Internet for "Hand Signal for Help."


Canadian Women's Foundation page on the hand signal:

Law Dictionary page on when to request a police welfare check:

Thank you!

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