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TikTok domestic abuse help signal
Via TikTok (@nichellelaus)

Teen girl saves herself from kidnapping with SOS signal learned on TikTok

The missing 16-year-old alerted a passing driver to her situation via a hand gesture designed to help domestic abuse victims

A kidnapped 16-year-old girl has been found by authorities after using a hand gesture she learned on TikTok to signal for help. The North Carolina teenager was rescued from a car in Kentucky last week, having been reported by her parents as missing two days before.

According to a police report by the state’s Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, the young woman signalled to a passing driver by using a gesture designed for domestic abuse victims to show they’re in distress. It involves raising your palm, tucking your thumb, and then folding your fingers over it.

Authorities explained that the person who called the police was travelling behind the car holding the victim when they “noticed a female passenger in the vehicle” making the hand gestures. The complainant then followed the car and updated 911 on its whereabouts, enabling the police to intercept it.

“The female juvenile told Sheriff’s investigators that she had gotten with the male subject and travelled through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and into Ohio where the accused had relatives,” the police statement read. “When the male subject’s relatives realised that the female in his custody was under age and reported missing, the accused left Ohio travelling southbound and the female juvenile then began attempting to get motorists’ attention to call 911.”

James Herbert Brick, a 61-year-old man from North Carolina, has been arrested and charged with first-degree unlawful imprisonment, as well as possession of child pornography after a phone portraying “a juvenile female in a sexual manner” was found in his possession.

The signal used by the girl is believed to have been introduced by the Canadian Women’s Foundation last year, in light of rising cases of domestic abuse during COVID lockdown. It has since been adopted globally as a signal for women to discreetly ask for help. A video shared on TikTok by former police officer and self-defense expert Nichelle Laus suggests that people who have been kidnapped use the sign to call for help.

This isn’t the first time people have shared safety tips on TikTok. Last year, a viral trend saw users record themselves pretending to talk on the phone – the aim was for the clips to be used by anyone who felt unsafe during a cab ride home, so it would seem like they were chatting to a friend or family member, who was aware of their location. TikTok sleuths have also employed their detective skills to try and solve decades-long murder and kidnapping cases.