Palm up, thumb tucked, fingers over thumb.
The Signal for Help is a simple hand gesture that silently communicates:
I need your help
without leaving additional trace.
It’s easy enough to learn as a tool that might be useful in an abusive situation. Learning how to respond to it. Well, that’s another matter entirely.
I’m Andrea Gunraj at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Welcome to Alright, Now What?, a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder “Why is this still happening?” We explore systemic roots and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis, and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land. However, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
A quick search online pulls up several news stories about women and girls who used the Signal for Help in dangerous situations of gender-based violence.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation launched the Signal in 2020 in the wake of rising abuse, such as intimate partner violence and sexual assault, as well as a rising use of video calls. It was the right time. The Signal for Help has gone viral more than once since then. People have been sharing it on Tik Tok and other social media platforms as a tool that might be useful to some people. Some of the time. But a Signal is only as useful as its response.
Do you know the Signal for Help?
Do you know how to respond to it?
Can you respond to any sign or signal of abuse?
Our research found that people in Canada do believe that everyone needs to play a role in ending gender-based violence, but fewer feel confident and competent to respond. In fact, many say intimate partner abuse is none of my business if it doesn’t directly involve me. That’s why the Canadian Women’s Foundation launched a Signal for Help Responder digital learning journey and an online mini course as part of the learning journey.
We know people care.
We know people generally believe in ending gendered violence.
But it takes a lot to turn care and belief into action that will make a difference to survivors seeking nonjudgmental support from friends, family and coworkers.
And it takes a lot to turn one-on-one support into a whole movement – to change our mainstream culture of stigma and silencing to a culture of survivor support.
What does it take to change individual behavior?
I love this topic. There are so many theories.
Fisher and Fisher says you have to have information, motivation and skills to change your behavior. And that includes what people around you are doing and a sense that you can be successful in that change a sense of I know I can do this.
Mitchie, van Stralen and West pull together a bunch of theories and models to show how change comes from a complex combination of capability, opportunity and motivation.
A study by Ver Planken and Roy found that smaller behavioral changes are more likely to stick when you’re already going through big life changes. Waves of change kind of crest together.
What I find interesting in all these theories might seem obvious, but in our individualized worldviews we don’t always get it.
You can’t take a person out of their context.
No one is an island.
No one changes in a vacuum.
We influence each other as much as we influence ourselves.
Changes come from a mix of internal and external pushes and pulls.
I spoke with Jennifer Delisle, learning designer at Onlea. She’s been working with us on the Signal for Help Responder mini course we just launched online at learn.signalforhelpresponder.ca.
It’s a mobile friendly, choose your own adventure approach to building a learners’ skills so that they can respond to any sign or signal of abuse. Jennifer has designed courses for post-secondary education, industry, government, and nonprofits. She has a passion for bringing story telling and clear, engaging language to everyday learning experiences.
My name is Jennifer Delisle and I am a learning designer with Onlea, learning development and consulting company. My team was involved collaborating with Canadian Women’s Foundation for creating the Signal for Help Responders’ course.
So, my passions are bringing online learning to everyone, making it really accessible, regardless of who you are. Also, making it really meaningful. So I’m really excited to have been part of the Signal for Help Responders’ course. It’s such an important topic.
Everyone says we need more awareness and education to deal with problems like gender-based violence. But what does that really mean? What’s awareness and education have to do with it?
A prominent theme that kept coming up in our work together is that many people don’t think that gender-based violence is an issue that’s relevant to them, personally, don’t think it’s their business or they think that it maybe doesn’t affect their community. And then kind of the other side of the same coin is it’s a principle of adult education that adult learners need to see how what they’re learning is relevant to them.
Awareness and education really starts there, with getting people to understand that this is an issue that affects everyone, every community, every gender, and that anyone could be in a position where they need to respond to a situation. And that’s more powerful than the statistics. I think people are aware in an abstract way of the problem, but it’s really about connecting the issue to the learner’s life.
So I think of the Signal for Help Responder course in many ways as being a call to action. It’s not just about awareness of the facts of gender-based violence. It’s putting the learner in the position of someone who is empowered to respond. That word empowered is really important because education is a lot more than just giving people the facts or like the steps in a process. It’s about giving people confidence, that they can learn a skill and apply it in real life, and that applies to just about anything, right?
If you’re learning to cook, for example, you’re also learning to have confidence in the decisions you’re making and the actions you’re taking. What ingredients are gonna work well together? How do you cook the chicken so you don’t poison anyone, right?
So when we’re talking about something like responding to gender-based violence, people feel very uncomfortable, emotional, overwhelmed. They are scared of doing the wrong thing. They’re scared of making the situation worse. Or maybe even putting themselves in harm’s way. So so much of what we need to teach is not what steps to take, but just the fact that they can take those steps. They can use them effectively and they can make a difference in someone’s life.
When it comes to behavior change, what actually works, especially when we’re trying to help people get more confident and competent in supporting survivors of violence?
Why is the Signal for Help Responder mini course going to be good for that?
One of the best things you can do to help build confidence and competency is to give people chances to practice and to fail in an environment where the stakes are low. The research really shows that benefit of active learning and practice. We’ve built in opportunities for learners to think about and select the best response and different kinds of scenarios throughout the modules.
Learners also have the opportunity to try out a final scenario in which they’re really immersed in a situation that’s it’s like a first-person situation. There’s animated characters who are talking directly to you. And you’re making decisions about what to say and what to do in response, and then see the outcomes of those decisions. So that kind of thing also really helps that learning to be we say sticky in the industry, right? You’re much more likely to retain what you’ve learned from a story that you’ve been immersed in and interacted with.
That’s the real challenge. Getting people to remember what they’ve learned six months, six years from now. The key is to make it relevant, like we’ve been talking about, but also simple. So I talk with my colleagues a lot about cognitive load. The idea that our brains only have so much capacity. We can only process so much new information at one time and only so much of it then is getting encoded into our long-term memory.
We’ve probably all experienced this right. If you think back to university or high school, if you had an exam that you stayed up all night to cram for, maybe you did all right on the test, but very soon after that all of that information you stuffed in there was gone. So to remember it long term and then to be able to retrieve it when you need it, we need to learn it differently- so it needs to be simple and straightforward and presented in bite sized chunks.
That’s where the structure of the mini course comes in. Not only is it a mini course- the whole thing is around an hour, but it’s also made up of 6 short modules of five to 10 minutes each, so you don’t need to do them in any order. You can choose what’s relevant to you, so that means you can pop in, do a module when you’re waiting for your kids or over your coffee break, and then you can absorb just that small amount of information which is already competing with everything else that you have going on in your head. And then you’re much more likely to remember it long term.
We also need to be able to attach it to the knowledge that we already have. So there’s also several moments of reflection where the learners are prompted to think about their own lives and really connect with their learning to their own experience.s
How did you feel when someone you loved was hurt or when you had a difficult time in the past?
What does support look and feel like for you?
I’m really interested in this idea of self-efficacy.
I know I can.
Why is it important when we’re learning how to end abuse?
Yeah there, there’s a couple of pieces to that.
I think the first thing is that self-efficacy is really tied closely to motivation. So, if you don’t feel like you are going to be able to learn something, then your motivation to try is not there. So you need to be set up for that kind of success right from the get go. Because these situations are so emotional, overwhelming, scary, you really need to have a strong sense of self efficacy, of that confidence that you can do it so that when the adrenaline is firing and you’re feeling all of those emotions, everything is heightened, and all these thoughts are running through your head, you can still kind of find your feet and make your way through it.
In that kind of situation, it’s really easy to say something that’s not as helpful. Sometimes our natural automatic responses, especially when we’re feeling angry or scared or upset, is to say things like, why don’t you just leave? which can make the person experiencing violence feel judged or blamed. Even though we’re only trying to help, so it’s really easy to enter that situation with a lot of self-doubt.
What if I say the wrong thing?
What if I make the situation worse?
So instead our goal with the course was to meet people where they are, to gently show better ways to respond that avoid stigma and judgment and give those practice opportunities to build that confidence.
Alright, now what?
Join the Signal for Help Responder learning journey by visiting signalresponder.ca
Sign up and you’ll get a simple guide, as well as links to our Signal for Help Responder mini course.
And if you just want to take the course right now, please go to learn.signalforhelpresponder.ca. Give it a try, and give us your feedback so we can make it better into the future.
And please have a happy, safe holiday season.
Please listen, subscribe, rate and review this podcast and share it with others. If you appreciate this content, if you want to get in on the efforts to build a gender equal Canada, please donate today at canadianwomen.org and consider becoming a monthly donor. And thank you for being tireless in your support for gender justice.