Covert signals indicating personal danger have appeared in drink orders, codewords and now TikTok gestures.
On Tuesday Nov. 2, a 16 year old girl from North Carolina was reported missing by family members, but found the following Thursday and later rescued from a kidnapper by the Laurel County Police Department of Kentucky. The authorities have attributed her escape to the use of a hand gesture well-known on the platform Tik Tok as a signal of domestic violence at home.
According to the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, “The complainant was behind the vehicle and noticed a female passenger in the vehicle making hand gestures that are known on the social media platform ‘Tik Tok’ to represent violence at home—I need help—domestic violence… we don’t know how long coming down the interstate from Ohio that she had been doing this to other motorists hoping that they would notice that she was in distress, but finally someone did recognize.” The police arrested her kidnapper on multiple charges, such as possession of a matter of sex performance by a minor, and unlawful imprisonment.
While this gesture is specifically intended to express domestic violence, it is very impressive that the girl thought to utilize the same gesture in her situation. This is much more subtle than something that would be obvious like writing a note on paper and holding it up to passing traffic, or trying to send a text or dial 911, and the situation may have turned out much worse if she had tried something else. That being said, this situation raises questions about the implications of posting something on public social media platforms that demonstrates such techniques to communicate danger and signal for help.
One cannot deny that Tik Tok and other social media are not the best method to teach youth how to protect themselves or get help when in danger. The very publicity of the platform and how the vast majority of people today use these platforms point to the sad truth that child predators also lurk online, as well as others that desire to do violence to others. It is unreasonable and dangerous to live under the assumption that predators are not seeing these publicly broadcasted gestures to call for help, and that they are monitoring such information to serve their own twisted goals.
The people posting these videos and educational content on self protection are not the inherent problem. In fact, they are using these platforms as a tool that clearly helps people like this young girl. However, why is this not being communicated in other educational methods, such as in classes in school? There needs to be a push in public and private education to do better to communicate these techniques to young people that are victims due to their innocence and impressionability. While there is still the opportunity for people seeking to do immoral things to receive this information, it would hopefully be more minimized than broadcasting that information to billions of people on the internet.
All said, there is not a great solution to the problem, and bad people will do bad things still, so the victims should never be blamed and the educators should not be harshly criticized for doing the best they can to help. We should all be proud of this girl, as she used the tools at her disposal to do the right thing and get the help she needed.