Getting help to escape domestic violence is now possible with a hand signal during a video call.
Last April, the Canadian Women’s Foundation released its Signal for Help campaign to encourage those experiencing violence as a result of home isolation during the pandemic to reach out for help by using a single-hand gesture during video calls to alert family, friends, or colleagues.
Andrea Gunraj, vice-president of public engagement with the foundation, said a poll has since shown about one in three Canadians know about the Signal for Help.
“We’ve seen it shared on social media. The video that we have online for the Signal for Help almost has a million views and they’re not all from Canada. They’re from all over the place,” Gunraj said.
The simple, two-step gesture involves displaying a palm to the camera with the thumb tucked inside the palm, then the rest of the fingers close around the thumb.
“It’s perhaps a safer way in some contexts to say ‘I need help’ without actually having to say the words or leaving any kind of digital record.
“There’s no perfect tool. Different things work in different situations. But it is something that at the very least allows people to have an indication that they need someone to check in with them about their safety.”
She said gender-based violence was anticipated to increase during the pandemic, and calls to crisis lines and shelters have climbed in many parts of Canada.
Patricia Arango, executive director of Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre, said calls and texts to its Crisis Line increased 238 per cent from 2019 to 2020, and last month was the centre’s busiest ever for new clients.
She said she made sure the Crisis Line was fully operational throughout the pandemic.
“I’m glad I did it because I see how much people need it,” Arango said.
The support centre offers 24-hour call, texting and web chat access — at 1-866-956-1099.
She said the Signal for Help does work, but more awareness is still needed and the support centre plans to share information about the campaign in May during Sexual Violence Awareness Month.
To learn more about what to do when someone uses the Signal for Help, or to download and share the signal, visit: canadianwomen.org/signal-for-help.