Signal For Help

The social isolation measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic are making it more difficult for those who are at risk of abuse or violence to safely reach out for help.

“Signal for Help” is a simple one-handed sign someone can use on a video call. It can help a person silently show they need help and want someone to check in with them in a safe way.

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 Signal for Help is a tool that may help some people, some of the time. Some people do not have the ability to make video calls. Please find other resources, services, and programs below that may be helpful in an unsafe situation at home.

The Signal for Help was launched by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in response to COVID-19, and is now being shared by partner organizations around the world. If you are an organization that would like to launch Signal for Help in your own country or region, get in touch with us at info@canadianwomen.org.

If You See the Signal:

If you see someone use the Signal for Help, check in with the person safely to find out what they need and want you to do.

They may want to tell you what is happening. They may ask you to listen and be there for them. They may ask for help finding services.

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?”
  1. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency services (police, fire, ambulance).
  2. These websites list services, programs, and organizations all over Canada. You can also look for other places to get help in your community using Google searchTry search terms like “crisis line”, “domestic violence”, “women’s shelter near me”:
  3. Resources for elder abuse: www.canada.ca

  4. Resources for child abuse: kidshelpphone.ca or crisistextline.ca

  5. American resources: womensfundingnetwork.org/signalforhelp

Signal for Help Materials

Please share Signal for Help on social media and help get the word out!

English Toolkit
French Toolkit
Spanish Toolkit

Other FAQs

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.

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 sign, 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.

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