5 Ways To Discreetly Ask For Help If You're In Immediate Danger

These techniques are designed to alert people you're in danger without letting a perpetrator know.
Individuals can discreetly ask for help in Boots stores and private pharmacies
FG Trade via Getty Images
Individuals can discreetly ask for help in Boots stores and private pharmacies

Women’s safety has become an increasingly important debate in recent months as the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa still weigh heavily on people’s minds.

While men are being encouraged to change their attitudes towards women, learning small gestures to alert the people around you that you’re in danger could also end up being lifesaving.

A teenager was rescued from her abductor after sending a particular sign to a passing driver in the US in early November – proving that subtle solutions can also help in an emergency.

Here are five crucial ways you can discreetly call for help without letting those who threaten you know.

1. TikTok hand gesture

A 16-year-old girl used a well-known hand signal circulating on the social media platform TikTok to alert a passing driver that she was in danger last week.

The signal represents “violence at home – I need help – domestic abuse”.

The driver then recognised the gesture and called 911 leading to the arrest of her abductor.

The gesture is very straight-forward – hold your hand out with your palm facing away from you and tuck your thumb into your palm. Then fold your fingers over your thumb.

The gesture was established last year when domestic abuse increased during the pandemic.

Created by the Women’s Funding Network and the Canadian Women’s Foundation, it was developed for silent communication during video calls but now has become a well-known signal for a range of scenarios.

Women’s Funding Network CEO Elizabeth Barajas-Roman told Sky News that this is particularly crucial because it is a “non-verbal” gesture and therefore effective regardless of language or culture.

2. Ask for Angela

This safety initiative was first created by Lincolnshire County Council and was adopted by the Met Police back in 2016. It gradually became more popular and has now been rolled out across London bars and licensed businesses.

Anyone who feels unsafe can ask venue staff for ‘Angela’, meaning they need urgent help. A trained member of staff will then assist the individual, which could mean helping them find a friend, escorting them to a taxi or calling security or even the police.

Venues with this system in place usually have a poster advertising the scheme in the toilets.

The campaign was founded by Hayley Child of Lincolnshire County Council and plays on the concept of a guardian angel.

3. Pharamacies ANI

A different scheme launched in January this year where Boots stores and private pharmacies around the UK recognised a shared codeword, ‘ANI’.

If an individual asks for ANI (Action Needed Immediately), a trained worker will take them aside and offer to call either the police or domestic abuse helplines.

4. SOS signal on your phone

The newer iPhone models (from iPhone 8 onwards) will allow users to make an emergency call and share their location by just pressing one button.

Press and keep holding the side button and either the up or down volume button. The emergency SOS slider appears at first, and you can drag this to call the services.

If you just hold down these two buttons, it will activate a countdown and issue a loud alert before automatically calling the emergency services.

For the iPhone 7, or earlier editions, you can achieve similar results by pressing the side button five times in quick succession.

Once you’ve spoken to the emergency services, managed on your medical ID in your phone’s health app, all of your emergency contacts will be notified with your current location.

Android phones have a similar feature installed, although for Samsung devices turn on the SOS feature in your advanced settings. The lock button then needs to be pressed three times before a message is sent to a specific contact with your location.

Other SOS features range from manufacturer to manufacturer.

The SOS feature on iPhones can help in emergency situations
bymuratdeniz via Getty Images
The SOS feature on iPhones can help in emergency situations

5. Silent Solution to 999

The 999 Silent Solution system allows anyone who feels under threat to call the emergency services discreetly.

Dial 999 even if you cannot talk, and the operator will ask you to cough or tap your phone to explain that this was not an accidental call.

Police also ask people to dial 55 in the middle of the call if they are not able to respond in any way at the time. This will let the services know you are in danger even if you cannot make a sound.

This system has been running in the UK since 2002.

Help and support:

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

  • The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
  • In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
  • In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
  • In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
  • Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
  • Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321