Kidnapped teen rescued after using Canadian Women’s Foundation ‘Signal for help’

Juniper Park\TBWA made news around the world Monday after a creative solution to help woman suffering from domestic abuse was used by kidnapped teenager to signal for help.

A driver on a Kentucky highway called 911 on Thursday after noticing a young girl in another car making a hand gesture signalling that she needed help. The caller told 911 that the girl appeared to be in distress, and was being driven by an older male.

The caller followed the car while talking to police, who pulled the suspect vehicle over and discovered that the 16-year old girl had been abducted from North Carolina two days earlier.

The Signal for Help was developed by Juniper Park\TBWA for the Canadian Women’s Foundation during the early days of the pandemic. It was intended to be used by women stuck at home with an abusive partner to secretly communicate they needed help during video chats.

By raising an open hand to the camera and then closing the fingers over the thumb, the woman could discreetly signal that they needed help without alerting their partner.

“Our idea is to institutionalize it as a safety measure,” Juniper Park\TBWA’s chief creative officer Graham Lang told The Message at the time. “This is certainly not a launch and abandon idea for COVID… The idea is for it to become as widely known as a thumbs up, I’m feeling good.”

Since launching last April, the gesture has gone viral on TikTok as a signal for domestic violence.

Lang told The Message on Monday that the agency learned about the teen being saved from CWF. “As a team, and as human beings, seeing how the signal for help has been used to make a difference in real-life situations has had such a profound impact on our sense of purpose,” he said. “The team and I have been overcome by emotion these past few days, and are immensely grateful to see the positive impact the signal has had for those who are in need of it.”

Earlier this year, a popular Turkey-based Syrian YouTuber named Om Sayf used the signal with her 5.8 million followers. “This triggered her followers to alert the authorities, and thankfully, she was later confirmed safe,” said Lang. “We sincerely hope that the signal continues to be shared widely—not only so people know how to use it, but as importantly, so people know how to respond when they see it.”

David Brown