One Small Gesture, One Giant Act Against Human Trafficking
A vital hand signal can help rescue a victim trapped with their abductor.
Posted November 23, 2021 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
- The S.O.S. hand signal can alert people nearby that a trafficking situation is occurring.
- A recently foiled abduction exemplifies the dramatic impact a small hand signal can have.
- As more people learn the S.O.S. hand signal, traffickers will have a harder time staying in the shadows.
In one week, millions of Americans learned a vital hand signal that can help rescue an innocent victim trapped with a human trafficker. Here's what happened.
On November 2, a 16-year-old girl from North Carolina was in a car traveling across Kentucky on I-75. What seems like a miraculous, life-saving coincidence prevented the trip from having a dire outcome.
As Bo Beatty, head of the anti-human trafficking organization Traffick Jam Live tells the story, the girl had been taken by a 61-year-old man. He was a sex offender and had a rap sheet.
The young woman’s situation was desperate. Only a tiny fraction of trafficking victims are rescued, and those who don’t escape face a trauma-filled life with a high risk of overdose, suicide, or murder.
The S.O.S. Hand Signal
The situation was dire, but luck was on the abductee's side. She had recently seen a popular TikTok video about using a hand signal to alert other people that a human trafficking situation was taking place. The silent, single-handed gesture is done by putting one's hand up with the palm facing outward, tucking the thumb in while the four fingers face up the fingers to "trap" the thumb.
James Herbert Brick from North Carolina had abducted the young girl and, although she was terrified, she began displaying the S.O.S. hand signal. To her abductor, it might have looked as if she were just waving at people. However, a man who happened to be driving the a car behind her had also seen the S.O.S. hand signal on TikTok; he recognized that the girl was in danger.
A Foiled Abduction
Using his cell phone, the motorist alerted local law enforcement to the situation and then continued to follow the car while giving the police updates. Swinging into action, the police quickly set up a roadblock ahead of the car.
Brick saw the road block up ahead and pulled off I-75 at nearby Exit 41.
This was exactly what the police had been hoping he'd do: they had also set a second trap. As Brick exited the highway, he immediately saw a police vehicle in front of him. And before he could try to escape by reversing direction, another police vehicle pulled up behind him, boxing him in.
The girl was safely returned to her parents. Brick ended up in the Laurel County Correctional Center.
This fortunate outcome depended almost entirely on both the brave young girl and the alert motorist knowing the hand gesture for help.
Spreading the Word about the S.O.S. Hand Signal
Traffick Jam Live has helped play a role in spreading the word about the “sign for help.” Traffick Jam Live is collaborating with anti-trafficking organizations everywhere, providing them with its “Eyes 4 U” PSAs and social media campaigns to share and help deploy vital information about the S.O.S. hand signal.
For Beatty, the hand signal project is part of a bigger picture. “I worked for Sony Entertainment for years, and the CEO’s mindset was, ‘Yes, it’s good to save one starfish, but let’s prevent thousands of starfish from ending up stranded on the beach.”
Following that kind of thinking, Beatty’s goal is to get out in front of the trafficking scourge and not just save and restore a few individuals but to disrupt trafficking at wholesale scale. Traffick Jam Live’s “Eyes 4 U” program leverages the power of the hundreds of existing anti-trafficking organizations in the U.S. through collaborative networking.
José Feliciano Joins the Effort
Beatty's approach is to raise funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking organizations.
On November 30th he’s testing a hybrid live-virtual concert event with José Feliciano, the performer best known for “Light my Fire,” and “Feliz Navidad.”
“We’re planning two more collaborative concerts next year, but this year we’re piloting the one with José Feliciano in time for Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.”
"The pandemic has enabled virtual and hybrid events, and is transforming the nonprofit space," says Beatty. "We now have, unlike anytime before, the ability to capture global audiences through live-streamed events. The S.O.S. hand signal gives the anti-trafficking movement important visibility. It now drives significantly higher views on social media. Millions of American’s just learned this signal and word of it is spreading.”
Beatty wants people to become aware that trafficking happens in every community. It’s not just someone flown in from Asia or East Europe. “We have to talk about this," he says, "and bring it out of the dark shadows.”