There is a pandemic percolating within the COVID-19 pandemic—domestic violence.
Around the world, almost 1 in 3 women has experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in her lifetime according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
And since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, with the continuous lockdowns that force people to be cooped up at home, the United Nations said that data and reports from those in the frontlines show that all types of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.
During the pandemic, when people are mostly limited to online interactions, finding help for those who are being abused may not be that easy, especially if the victim is being closely monitored by an abuser.
We have read stories of women getting out of an abusive situation, thanks to covert ways to call for help that often go viral on social media. These stories do not only help abuse survivors if they need it but also spread awareness so that people will recognize these signals to help someone else.
Phone calls using a coded language
In 2019, a woman from Oregon secretly called 911 to report domestic violence under the guise of ordering a pizza.
This allowed her to give her address and contact number to the authorities, even though her abuser was within earshot.
The operator, who initially thought the caller dialed the wrong number, realized that the woman he was speaking to was asking for help. He then asked the woman yes or no questions to verify the situation, to which she answered, “Yup. I need a large pizza” and “No. With pepperoni.”
After the call, police were dispatched immediately and the abuser was arrested.
There is no standard coded language that people follow when it comes to discreetly signaling for help.
But according to experts, what could be done in this situation is to adapt the coded language in the local context and share information about it to people you know and trust.
Like an example cited by Domestic Shelters organization, “If you message me asking to borrowmy slow cooker, I’ll follow up with yes or no questions to help you.”
‘Signal for Help’
Recently, a missing 16-year-old girl from North Carolina was rescued from potential danger after she used a hand gesture she learned from TikTok called “Signal for Help,” which is meant to be used by an individual to alert others if they feel threatened and need help.
A concerned driver, who was trailing behind the vehicle where the teen was in, alerted authorities that prompted the arrest of a 61-year-old man, who was charged with “unlawful imprisonment” and was found to be in possession of photos of a teenager engaged in sexual acts in his mobile phone.
The signal was first introduced by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in April 2020 to help provide a solution to the rise in domestic violence cases during the pandemic.
TikTok content creators made their own versions of the video by the foundation to further get the message out.
View this post on Instagram
The signal is simple, hold your hand with your thumb tucked into your palm. Then fold your fingers down, which, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, symbolically traps your thumb in your fingers.
The Signal for Help, which has been recognized by over 40 organizations across Canada and the United States, was intentionally designed to be a single, continuous hand movement that could be made easily visible.
The foundation also indicated ways on what to do if you see someone using the signal.
• Check in with the person safely what they need and want you to do. They may want to tell you what’s happening and ask you to listen or be there for them. Or maybe ask for help in finding services.
• If the person is in imminent danger, call the local authorities or emergency services.
As signals like those that are mentioned above have been repeatedly shared and known by the public, there is a huge possibility that an abuser learn about it, especially that abusers often closely monitor the person they harm.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, “There is no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone facing abuse. Everyone faces their own unique circumstance.”
Signal for Help and other covert signals are tools that some people may be able to use to indicate they need help without leaving a digital trace.
“It is important that people reach out for support if and when they feel ready, and they should do it in the ways that feel safest for them,” the foundation’s website reads.
“People supporting them should be ready to help without judgement, and they should follow the lead of the person who needs help.”
(If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, call the PNP hotline 177, Aleng Pulis hotline at 0919-777-7377 or PNP Women and Children Protection Center anti-violence against women and children office at 8532-6690.)