At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, the advocacy organization Canadian Women's Foundation promoted a hand signal meant to alert people that the person making the gesture is facing violence at home and in need of help, but for various reasons cannot verbally say so.
The hand gesture is real. The "violence at home signal for help" was developed and promoted by advocacy organizations at the start of the pandemic to help domestic violence victims. At the time of this writing, the campaign was only a year old, so it's unclear how well-known it is among the general public.
Snopes readers asked about it after Indian social media personality and restauranteur Harjinder Singh Kukreja posted a video on Twitter demonstrating the signal for his 1.4 million followers:
The hand signal was first developed and publicized by the Canadian Women's Foundation, a charity, in March 2020, and was promoted by the international charity Women's Funding Network, as well as a number of news outlets that helped spread the message.
According to McGill University, based in Montreal, Canada, the hand signal is important because disasters or crises like the COVID-19 pandemic can result in a spike in domestic violence:
There’s ample evidence that disaster situations often lead to a surge in violence that women, girls, and trans and non-binary people are at highest risk of experiencing. This includes intimate partner violence, emotional abuse, and sexual violence. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different: other countries have already seen dramatic increases in gender-based violence, and Canada is bracing for a surge in the coming weeks and months.
If you see someone using this gesture or help signal, the Canadian Women's Foundation has a list of steps you can take to reach out to them and ascertain how you can be of assistance. If you believe someone is in immediate danger, call emergency services (911 in North America). Otherwise, the foundation recommends calling the person and asking yes or no questions or using another non-verbal form of communication like texting, emailing, or reaching out via social media.