GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — One young North Carolina teen’s life was saved after officials say she used hand signals she saw on the popular app TikTok to alert another driver after the girl was reported missing.
According to the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky, a caller told 911 that the female passenger in the silver Toyota in front of them on I–75 was making hand gestures that are known on TikTok to represent “violence at home,” “I need help” and “domestic violence.”
Investigators pulled the vehicle over and learned that the unnamed 16-year-old passenger was reported missing out of Asheville by her parents last Tuesday.
That girl is reportedly safe, and the man she was with has been charged with unlawful imprisonment and possession of matter showing sex performances by a minor. He was taken to the Laurel County Correctional Center.
A spokesperson with the Greenville Police Department tells 9OYS, “there are not really any universal signs for this.” They say they “do not train officers or the general public on hand signals.”
9OYS spoke with the Director of the Women and Gender Office at East Carolina University, who works with students to recognize violence and unhealthy situations and the resources that can assist them.
“I had been aware of the black dot campaign a couple of years ago, but this one was new to me,” she said of the TikTok hand signal currently trending.
She also said while the signal is gaining traction on social media platforms like TikTok, which could potentially lead to more using and being helped by the signal, Ashley Cleland says it can also hinder future help, too.
“My concern with these kinds of viral social media campaigns is that if survivors and victims are seeing it so very likely are predators or abusers also seeing it”, she said. That can lead to more violence.
“So the effectiveness, particularly if law enforcement isn’t on TikTok or is not trained in those hand signals, they can actually be less helpful in actually ending the cycle of violence,” Cleland said.
Cleland said the most important thing is education in prevention efforts, and recognizing the early signs that something or someone is not safe.
“We typically talk to folks about the four Ds,” Cleland said. They readily teach bystander intervention to students and understanding there is more than one way to help someone.
Direct – Directly confronting the aggravator or the victim in the situation, getting directly involved and in the middle of the situation.
Distract – Distracting the individuals involved by sounding off a car alarm, asking them for directions. Throwing them off of your awareness of the situation in an attempt to deescalate or stop it.
Delegate – What happened with the TikTok hand signal. Recognizing a situation and delegating it to someone more equipped to handle it, like calling 911. Talking to friends and family of involved persons to get a better read for the situation.
Delay – Delayed response, checking in on something after the fact. Seeing something happen at a party or in public and waiting until the situation is calmed to address it with those involved.
“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something”, Cleland says. And that’s all it takes.