Become a Signal For Help Responder

When you know how to respond to the signs of abuse, you can change the story

If someone in your life told you they were experiencing abuse, would you know how to help?

There’s a lot of stigma and silence around gender-based violence in our society: too many people who experience abuse are shamed, silenced, and stigmatized, and too many people don’t feel they have the confidence or knowledge to support them.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can support a friend, family member, or colleague who is experiencing abuse, here’s what you can do:

Cover page of Signal for Help Responder's Action Guide

1. Sign up to be a Signal for Help Responder.
You’ll receive the downloadable, quick-reference “Signal for Help Responder’s Action Guide” and enroll in an email learning series.

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2. Take the Signal for Help Responder Mini Course.
It’s free and flexible! Learn the basics of supporting someone who is experiencing abuse through short, interactive lessons you can take at your own pace.

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3. Subscribe and listen to the special Signal for Help podcast series.
Featuring interviews with survivors and experts, we explore how everyday people can better support someone facing gender-based violence.

What is the Signal for Help?

The “Signal for Help” is a tool to help those experiencing gender-based violence, created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It’s a simple one-handed gesture someone can use, without leaving a digital trace, to communicate they need someone to safely check in and support them.

If you see the Signal for Help:

1. Reach out to the person safely.
2. Be supportive: acknowledge their experience, listen, and let them tell you what they need.
3. Refer them to services or offer resources, as needed.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency services (police, fire, ambulance).

  1. Call them and ask questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”. This may reduce risk if someone is listening. For example:
    “Would you like me to call 911?”
    Would you like me to call a shelter on your behalf?” (Find a shelter in your community by visiting ShelterSafe.)
    “Should I look for some services that might help you and call you back?” (Find some services you can reach out to.)
  2. Use another form of communication such as text, social media, WhatsApp, or email and ask general questions. This may reduce risk if someone is watching the person’s device or accounts. For example, you can ask:
    “How are you doing?
    How can I help you out?
    “Get in touch with me when you can.”
  3. Other questions you can ask:
    “Do you want me to reach out to you regularly?”
    “How else can I support you?”

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency services (police, fire, ambulance).

There are many services across Canada, and by province/territory, that can help someone being abused, including shelters, crisis lines, and counselling services. Many are free and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Many can provide help in many different languages.

You can also look for other places to get help in your community using Google search. Try search terms like “crisis line”, “domestic violence”, “women’s shelter near me”.

Other FAQs

There’s ample evidence that disaster situations can lead to a surge in gender-based violence. Public health directives on home isolation might increase danger and risk for people in abusive relationships.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners launched the Signal for Help in April 2020 in response to an increased risk of gender-based violence and increased use of video calls in the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, it’s a viral, award-winning initiative that continues to be shared around the world, educating people about gender-based violence and what we can all do to support survivors.

No. It signifies “reach out to me safely.”

The person using the Signal may want a number of things. They may want to talk or they may want information. They may ask you to help them find services.

They may want you to call authorities, but do not assume that is what they want or need. Let them take the lead.

The Signal For Help is not meant to refer to any words, letters, or ideas in American Sign Language (ASL) or other sign languages. It is designed as a single hand motion someone can make during a video call to silently communicate they need support. Deaf community members were consulted on the Signal for Help prior to the launch of the campaign to check in about using this hand gesture.

The Signal for Help looks similar to the “brain in the palm of the hand” signal taught by Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs. These programs may teach participants to use an open hand, trapped thumb, and fist to communicate and regulate their emotions.

If someone uses a signal that looks like the Signal for Help and you are uncertain about what they mean, consider the context in which they are using it. When it is safe to contact them, you can clarify what they meant to tell you and what support they need from you.

As the signal is shared and becomes known by the public, there is a risk that an abuser might learn about it. People in abusive situations are also often closely monitored by the person harming them, and they may not always feel safe enough to use the signal.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone facing abuse. Everyone faces their own unique circumstance. The Signal for Help is one tool some people may be able to use, some of the time, to indicate they need help without leaving a digital trace.

It is important that people reach out for support if and when they feel ready, and they should do it in the ways that feel safest for them. People supporting them should be ready to help without judgement, and they should follow the lead of the person who needs help.

There are many other resources, services, and programs listed here that may be helpful in an unsafe situation at home. If you suspect that someone you know is in danger and can’t use the signal, you can still safely check-in using the tips above. It’s important that when you reach out, you determine what the person who may be experiencing violence needs and wants you to do. Someone in an unsafe situation is the expert on what is safest for them.

This project has been funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada.

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Help Stop Rising Risk of Violence

Support women and girls experiencing violence to find safety today and into the future.

The Signal for Help in Numbers

  • 60,000 Signal for Help Responders … and growing

  • Shared in nearly 50 countries and 20 languages

  • 2 in 5 people in Canada know about the Signal (40%) and 1 in 10 have used it or seen it used (10%)

  • Winner of over 40 international awards

Learn More

Become a Signal for Help Responder at Work
Make your workplace a safe place for people experiencing abuse.