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This hand signal could alert others that you need help

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CHICAGO — A 16-year-old North Carolina girl reported missing was rescued in Kentucky last week after she used a hand gesture to signal abuse or distress, authorities said.

In a statement posted on the Laurel County sheriff’s office Facebook page Nov. 5, Sheriff John Root said that a 911 caller who recognized the hand signal reported seeing the girl use it as she traveled in a vehicle driven by 61-year-old James Herbert Brick on a Kentucky freeway last week.

“The complainant was behind the vehicle and noticed a female passenger in the vehicle making hand gestures that are known on the social media platform TikTok to represent violence at home — I need help — domestic violence,” Root’s statement said.

As Brick pulled off the interstate, officers conducted a traffic stop and identified the 16-year-old as a girl who had been reported missing by her family two days prior. Brick was also found to be in possession of an image on his phone that “allegedly portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner.”

The 61-year-old has been charged with unlawful imprisonment and possession of matter portraying a sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18, according to the sheriff’s office.

Here’s everything you need to know about the hand signal the teenager used to get help.

What does the hand signal look like?

The signal starts with an open palm facing outward. Then, tuck in the thumb, as if to hold up the number four. Finally, fold the rest of the fingers over, trapping the thumb.

Who created the signal, and why?

The signal was launched by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in response to how the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown isolation made it more difficult for people experiencing abuse or violence to reach out for help, the organization says on its website.

The signal was designed to be a simple one that could be used silently over video calls, the group says.

What should you do if you see someone using the signal?

You should reach out to the person safely, the Canadian Women’s Foundation says — and that doesn’t necessarily mean calling authorities. Reaching out safely could mean calling the person and asking questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no,” to reduce the risk to them if someone is listening to their conversations. Or you may want to contact them over text, email or a messaging app, asking broad questions in case their devices are being monitored.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation lists some examples of specific questions people can ask in either situation on their website.

If someone is in immediate danger, you should call 911.

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