4 Ways To Signal Distress In A Domestic Violence Situation

by Holly Garcia
Originally Published: 

Domestic violence is something we all know about. But how often do we talk about it openly, with empathy, and no shame? According to NCBI, on average, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men will experience some type of domestic violence in their lifetime. That’s a lot of people. Too many people.

So what can we do to help? Being aware of commonly used distress signals is one place to start. A perfect example of this involves a young girl who went missing and was found thanks to a hand gesture recognized from TikTok.

In November, a young woman was rescued when she signaled to another vehicle that she was in distress. This wasn’t the first time this hand gesture was used, and it certainly won’t be the last. Here are some long-held methods that domestic violence victims use to signal distress – and the role social media plays in spreading awareness about these practices.

Domestic Violence Distress Signals

The Signal for Help

This signal was created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation during the pandemic (there was an 8.1% increase in domestic violence during lockdown). To signal your distress, hold up an open palm and tuck your thumb inward, then fold your other four fingers over the top of your thumb.

Ordering A Pizza

In 2018, a woman in Ohio called 911 and ordered a pizza. But she wasn’t actually ordering; she was making a coded plea for help. In this instance, the dispatcher was able to interpret her message and confirm the details of the situation by asking yes or no questions.

An infographic made its way around social media sharing this strategy to signal distress in a domestic violence situation. However, an article on made a point to note that this is not standard practice.

The Angel Shot

Bartender Benjamin Smith (Benji Spears) gave a rundown of the angel shot on TikTok, and what different modifications to the order can convey about your safety.

There are three different options: with lime, neat, or on the rocks. These signify needing law enforcement, asking for an escort to your car, or having a manager order you a ride home.

Black dot on hand

This black dot on your palm was a viral sensation on Facebook six years ago. Simply draw a black dot on your hand to signal distress.

It’s been a signal of domestic violence for a long time, though not without criticism. As more and more people are aware of its meaning, sometimes this can create more harm than good if the wrong person sees it.

Domestic violence isn’t an unfamiliar situation. Whether you are a survivor or know someone who is, the best way to support awareness is by talking about it — and by knowing how to spot the signs, no matter how covert they may be.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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