Signal for Help hand signals

Signal for Help

Canadian Women’s Foundation


During the onset of the pandemic, a surge in domestic violence was anticipated by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. The pandemic-induced lockdown measures furthered the problem, with victims of abuse being even more closely controlled and monitored than usual.

TBWA was tasked with finding a way to combat this devastating increase in domestic violence by providing a tool that victims could safely use during lockdown to seek help.  

The Challenge

When women face violence at home, they aren’t free to do as they choose. Their communications are often monitored and they have little, if any, privacy. Now imagine how much worse that is in a lockdown – victims of abuse may have no escape or reprieve. 

For these women, asking for help would be more difficult than under normal circumstances, because of a cultural shift in how we communicated during the pandemic. There was no simple, covert way to ask for aid since communication with the outside world was more limited than ever. We needed to create a tool that victims could use to safely signal that they needed help without being detected.  

The Solution

We created the Signal for Help – an untraceable and discreet one-handed gesture designed as a continuous hand movement that could be easily visible over a video call.

The signal involves holding your hand up to the camera with your thumb tucked into your palm, folding your fingers down and trapping your thumb in your fingers. It means “reach out to me safely”. 

Once the signal was established and successfully promoted, our next task was to make sure people knew how to respond and intervene when someone showed them the signal. We created a number – 540–540, the numerical representation of each part of the hand gesture – that Canadians could text, where they would receive a free action guide with the best ways to respond.


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