- BBC News World
A gesture as simple as opening the palm of the hand and hiding the thumb under the fingers can enclose a message of help.
The same thing was done on Friday by a middle-aged woman who went to a medical center in Barcelona with a man. One of the nurses identified him and notified the emergency service.
The police did not take long to arrive and took a statement from the woman who had gestured. She said she suffered continuous threats from her companion and that the abuse, sometimes physical, had been going on for a long time. Given this, the agents proceeded to arrest the alleged aggressor.
It is the first time that this non-verbal signal for help leads to an arrest in Spain, but it is not the only country in which it is recognized.
It is known as #SignalForHelp (signal for help) and translates as “I need help, gender violence”.
It was designed for the Canadian Women’s Foundation by a Toronto advertising agency, with the aim of addressing the increase in cases of domestic violence during the pandemic, especially in the first confinements, and in these months its use it has become popular.
In 3 steps
The gesture is made in three times: the victim raises the hand with the palm facing out, then bends the thumb and finally closes the other fingers over it, encapsulating it to refer to “feeling trapped or trapped”.
The palm of the hand should point towards the person being asked for help.
When they decided to design it, the idea was to create “a simple gesture with one hand that could be used (initially, in video calls) without leaving a digital trace, and that it would be very useful when someone was trapped in a violent home, “explained educator and writer Andrea Gunraj, vice president of Public Engagement for the Canadian Women’s Foundation, to the Canadian public broadcaster CBC.
To come up with the right gesture, they looked at different movements, other hand gestures and international sign languages, said Graham Lang, creative director at Juniper Park TBWA advertising agency, who worked on the development of the campaign.
“It was essential that it be unique and different so as not to cause confusion between languages and cultures.”
An international gesture
The gesture has been spreading since the launch of the campaign in April 2020.
A 16-year-old teenager who had been reported missing by her parents on November 2 in Asheville, North Carolina (United States), used it to alert drivers of an upcoming vehicle.
The person who called the police noticed that the young woman “seemed to be distraught” and that the driver was an older man. Authorities arrested the 61-year-old man, who was accused of having kidnaped to the teenager.
“It was a great relief to know that this young woman was able to make the gesture and that people understood what was happening,” Gunraj said.
The news quickly spread through the platform TikTok.
Videos showing the signal for help were also widely broadcast on United Kingdom, especially in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard in March, which opened a debate on the safety of women on the streets of the European country.
According to the advertising news website AdAge, since the launch of the campaign, the signal for help in the face of sexist violence has been shared in more than 40 countries, and more than 200 international organizations have adopted it.
Gunraj says the Foundation has heard of people who saw the sign and were able to act and make sure the victim received support.
The idea is that it continues to be used globally, that is why the entity has created images and instructions in English, French and Spanish, with the idea that the gesture can continue to be shared throughout the world.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.