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How To Use Sign Language To Alert Someone For Help

Some grassroots efforts have popped up to empower people to ask for help in any situation. These situations include violence at home, standing up to stalkers, and avoiding date rape. Here’s what you should know to protect yourself and safely ask for help when you’re in danger.

What is the signal for help?

The Women’s Funding Network and the ​​Canadian Women’s Foundation created a universal distress signal. It’s simple: You tuck your thumb into your palm before closing your fingers over it.

This silent signal is a discreet way to show others that you may be in a dangerous situation. It first became widespread during the pandemic when domestic violence victims had to spend longer hours at home with their abusers.

You can flash the universal hand signal in a variety of places, including:

  • Video calls

  • Social media posts

  • At people walking or driving by through a window

There’s an example of successfully using this signal that went viral in late 2021. A 16-year-old girl’s parents reported her missing for 2 days. Another woman spotted the girl in a car on a Kentucky interstate with her kidnapper — four states away.

The woman saw the girl use the universal distress hand sign signaling for help through the window. Luckily, the woman recently learned about this signal on TikTok and called the police. Local authorities followed the tip and pulled over the kidnapper’s car. Thankfully, the girl wasn’t physically harmed.

Signaling for help when I’m unsafe in public

1. One-sided phone calls

One-sided phone calls are another tool users have shared. These pre-recorded calls sound like a real incoming call from someone expecting you home. A person in danger could play this conversation on speaker phone.

It may help prevent an attack because the perpetrator believes someone is looking for you. It may also buy you time to actually contact a loved one or emergency services for help. You can search TikTok for recordings of a one-sided conversation.

2. Ordering an “angel shot”

An “angel shot” is a code phrase you can use to quietly let a bartender know you need help. If someone is harassing you or you think a drink has been drugged, you can get the bar staff’s attention without angering a potential abuser and escalating your present danger.

When you order an angel shot, the bartender may recognize that you’re uncomfortable with your present company. They can take action to remove the offender from their premises and help you get home safely.

There are also several versions of the angel shot. An “angel shot neat” asks for an escort to your car. An angel shot with ice signals to call for a ride. And an angel shot with lime means to call the police.

3. Using the “ask for Angela” signal for help

Ask for Angela” is another code you can use to ask for help at a bar. If you ask for Angela, staff can arrange a ride to remove you from the situation and deal with the perpetrator after you’re gone. It could also discourage potential attackers if they know they are being watched.

“Ask for Angela” started as a U.K. campaign. It was created in response to a rise in sexual offences amid the rise of online dating in the early 2000s. Because bars tend to be crowded and loud, ask for Angela meant to be an easy, discreet shorthand for bar staff to recognize.

You may see posters in bathrooms explaining that anyone in distress should ask for Angela behind the bar.

Are there other silent ways to ask for help if I’m unsafe from domestic violence?

There are other silent ways to ask for help, depending on your situation. For example, some accessories companies have developed wearable smart alarms and emergency calling devices. These devices are usually something like a bracelet or keychain.

When you use your emergency alarm, it can send your GPS location to emergency responders or specific contacts in your phone. Other alarms simply blare loud sirens and blinding lights to disarm your attacker and buy you time to escape safely. You can search online to find these devices.

Other companies are also finding ways to help keep people safe. Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have enabled features to help passengers who may be in trouble. Some of the measures rideshare companies have taken include:

  • Sharing your driver’s name, photo, and license plate ahead of time

  • Conducting background checks on drivers

  • Requiring safety training from sexual assault advocacy organization RAINN

  • Adding buttons to send your estimated arrival time and location to assigned contacts in your phone

  • Making emergency calls to a chosen security company if you are in distress

  • Sending you a notification asking if you need help if a driver changes your drop-off location or veers off course

  • Allowing you to leave reviews and comments if you believe your driver was displaying unsafe behavior


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