safety signal
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
January 23, 2024 ·  7 min read

The 6 Most Recognizable Help Signals Everyone Should Know, Including Children

When we’re in danger, we should signal for help. However, it’s not always easy. Sometimes a dangerous situation could escalate if we try to call 911 or scream for help from passersby. Subtilty could make the difference between being rescued or not. Abusers and perpetrators of violence often try to limit their victim’s freedom as much as possible so they can’t escape. Calling 911 may not even be possible in this situation. Fortunately, there are several help signals victims could use to get assistance or support from people around them. For instance, one young woman was saved from a kidnapper because a man understood her hand signal. Here are six codes to save yourself and others from dangerous situations.

6 Subtle Signals For Help

Angel Shot

Blind dates or Tinder dates pose an obvious danger: You’re meeting a stranger. These dates could become uncomfortable, creepy, or downright unsafe very quickly. Therefore, the “angel shot” order is going viral. Here’s how it works: If a woman feels unsafe on a date, she should go to the bar and order an angel shot so the bartender can help. A neat angel shot means the bartender should escort the woman to her car. An angel shot on ice means the bartender should call an Uber for her. And an angel shot on lime means the bartender should call the police. 

This entire situation can be handled discreetly and it can make the world of a difference for someone on an unsafe date. “There is that social pressure, particularly when you are in a situation that hasn’t turned violent yet, but is making you uncomfortable, it’s always hard to speak up, but I think it’s great that bars are encouraging them to do so and letting them know that they can get help,”  said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.

Similarly, some bars in the U.K. have posters in the women’s bathrooms telling patrons to “ask for Angela” at the bar if they feel unsafe. [1]

Read: Text Me When You Get Home: Powerful Post Is Inspiring Women To Share Their Experiences

Call 911 and ‘Order Pizza

One smart woman reported her abuse by calling 911 and pretending to order a pizza. That way, her abuser didn’t know she was asking for help and she was able to give her address to the authorities. At first, the dispatcher thought she had the wrong number but when she insisted she did not, he realized what was happening and began to ask her yes or no questions. Eventually, the woman was able to be rescued from the situation before the violence escalated.

Ever since this story made headlines in 2019, some support groups teach this strategy to call 911 and order fast food. Similarly, this call is being used to train future dispatchers in that district. But keep in mind that not all dispatchers are trained to look out for this distress call. 

A good dispatcher is going to recognize that this is a person who wants to talk and needs help. That is exactly what happened here,” said Mike Navarre, the chief of police in Oregon, Ohio. “Some dispatchers might hang up on this person, but it’s worth a try give it your best shot. That’s what she did, and it worked out extremely well.[2]

The Black Dot on Hand

The Black Dot Campaign proposed a silent signal for help for those suffering from abuse and domestic violence. It’s very simple: Draw a black dot on the palm of one’s hand. People who see the black dot could then offer support for the victims.

The founder explained, “I imagined it as a tool to start face-to-face conversations between friends, or with professionals. I was basing it on my experiences and I was thinking, how could I prompt people to talk about domestic violence? A black dot is easy to make, and easy to erase. As a female, you could go to the toilet, draw one on with mascara, and then later wipe it out. Being in the center of your palm, you could close your palm and hide it from view.”

However, she admitted it’s not a perfect solution.

“As a way of seeking help, it’s not going to be a solution for everybody. As a victim, you know what triggers your abuser. So if it’s not safe to draw a black dot, don’t do it. Just because you’re a victim doesn’t mean you’re stupid – you know yourself what is safe and what is not safe.

One woman used this campaign as inspiration. When she was at the hospital for a consultation, a curtain was drawn between her and her abuser. So the woman took a pen and wrote “help me” to signal to the medical worker examining her. “This campaign gave me the strength and the idea how to ask for help,” she said. “I am now safe somewhere else thanks to that consultant and the black dot campaign.[3]

Read: Parents warned over dangers of your children wearing winter coat inside cars

STAN: Send The Authorities Now

This signal became well-known after the disappearance and eventual death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito. In her final text to her parents, she wrote, “Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls.

Stan is the name of her grandfather, but she didn’t usually call him by his first name. Her mother knew from this message something was wrong. Later, the authorities discovered her body, and later, the body of her fiance who had confessed her murder in a notebook before shooting himself. [4]

This case garnered much attention online, with many people speculating what Gabby’s final text meant. Some claim “stan” was an acronym for “send the authorities now.” It’s unclear whether Gabby intended the message as a call for help, but now, “stan” can be used as one. However, it’s not as well-known as other signals, which means it may not be as effective. 

Signal for Help for Domestic Violence

The lockdowns for the Covid-19 pandemic made it more difficult for victims of domestic violence to contact help. There were little to no opportunities for people to reach out to the Canadian Women’s Foundation created a “signal for help,” a simple hand gesture to use on video calls to ask for assistance. The signal is as follows: Hold up your hand, tuck your thumb into your palm, then close your fingers around it.

This signal saved a young girl while being kidnapped. She used this hand signal to alert a nearby driver, who recognized the sign and called 911. If you see someone use this signal, it’s likely the perpetrator is nearby so the victim can’t ask for help straight out. Instead, ask them questions that can be answered with yes or no, like should I call 911 or find a shelter or service for you? Alternatively, you can offer to reach out on a regular basis or ask how else you can support them. The signal doesn’t necessarily mean call 911; rather it asks for help in a more general sense. [5]

Related: Missing Teen Rescued After Making SOS Hand Gesture She Learned from TikTok

Create Your Own Code

If you are going into a potentially dangerous situation, such as going on a blind date, meeting a friend from the Internet, or traveling alone, create your own code words. In case the situation takes a bad turn, the perpetrator may become aggressive or violent if they realize their victim is calling for help. So, create a code to tell a friend to either rescue you from the event or call 911 on your behalf. This code can be a word, like “avocado” or a phrase like “send me the taco recipe”. Sometimes having a code can increase feelings of safety, even if you never have to use it.

The perk of an individual code is that the perpetrator never heard of it. Meanwhile, they could be familiar with a code like the ‘angel shot’ or the signal for help. Therefore, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for reaching out; it often depends on whatever is safest for the situation. [6]

Keep Reading: A toddler swallowed a button battery and died. Her mom is taking action.


  1. “Are ‘angel shots’ the answer to preventing date rape?USA Today. Mary Bowerman. February 16, 2017
  2. “Ohio woman who called 911 for pizza was really reporting domestic violence against her mom.NBC News. Elisha Fieldstadt. November 22, 2019
  3. “Can a black dot on a victim’s hand help tackle domestic violence?BBC. Elisha Fieldstadt. September 23, 2015
  4. “Brian Laundrie texted between his and Gabby Petito’s phone to trick law enforcement into thinking she was still alive, FBI says.” Insider. Erin Snodgrass. January 22, 2022
  5. “Signal For Help.Canadian Women’s Foundation.
  6. “These ‘Distress Signals’ May Help You Get Out of an Unsafe Situation.Very Well Health. Claire Wolters. November 19, 2021