Potentially life-saving hand signal to indicate distress spread on TikTok

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 6:27 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - We often hear about the negatives of social media and apps like TikTok for children. However, just last week the platform potentially saved a 16-year-old girl’s life from an alleged kidnapper.

The domestic violence hand signal of trapping the thumb underneath four fingers which started in Canada during the pandemic, now has amplified potential intervention across the globe. It is the same sign that was used by a 16-year-old last Thursday, November 4, out the window of a silver Toyota driven by 61-year-old James Herbert Brick as they headed south down I-75 in Laurel County, Kentucky. The young woman was reported missing by her parents two days prior in her home state of North Carolina. Flashing the hand signal she had learned on TikTok, a nearby motorist recognized it and called 911. Reading mile markers of where the silver Toyota was, the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office was able to box in the alleged kidnapper’s car off an exit. The teen was eventually reunited with her family.

Thanks in part to TikTok.

“TikTok loves to share resources and things like that,” Ellen Moorhouse, communications director for Women’s Funding Network, said. The Canadian Women’s Foundation, one of the 120 member organizations under the Women’s Funding Network, created the original TikTok video. “To truly see it take on a life of its own is ultimately the goal. A tool is only as good as those of us who use it. Seeing it come to life in that way through the power of women helping women, I think it reached nearly every country. It was translated into multiple languages, and now ultimately saving lives, which I think is just paramount.”

Child abduction cases are few and far between here in Northeast Wisconsin, according to De Pere police captain and incoming chief Jeremy Muraski. However, when it does happen, Muraski shared that getting as many people involved as quickly as possible can make a significant difference when setting up a perimeter or deploying resources.

“If the passing motorist observes that signal and calls 911 immediately, that is the very first step in getting that response started,” Capt. Muraski said. “That’s why the hand signal is so important. It tells somebody right away, ‘Hey, I’m in trouble. I need some assistance.’ Then, hopefully that message gets relayed to us immediately and we know right where to go to try to assist that person.”

“This one small tool won’t save everyone,” Moorhouse added. “It’s not the be-all end-all. If a woman needs a bed in a shelter, there are so many ways that we can help. But this tool is just one of them. I think for me, I’d like to get us to a point a little further up the stream. This is a last ditch effort for me. You need help, she’s in that car, she makes that signal, that is the moment she needs help.”

While social media can help, online users can also be the root of the problem. Messaging minors to meet up, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is far more common than stranger abductions, which compose less than 1% of nationwide missing child cases.

“That online safety, where we have seen certainly suspects who meet our youth and they travel sometimes hundreds of miles to pick them up,” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children case management director, Leemie Kahng-Sofer, explained, “then, that youth becomes a victim.”

To learn more about online enticement prevention CLICK HERE.

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