TikTok ‘Angel Cut’, ‘Angel Cut With Layers’ explained

To claim

Victims of domestic violence and/or human trafficking can reliably get help by asking for an “angel haircut” at any salon. People subjected to a “punitive haircut” can safely avoid it by requesting an “angel cut with layers”.

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Reports

AdvertisementOn December 11, 2022, TikTok hair influencer Leda Fazal (@ledafazal) shared a clip about an “angel cut” or “angel cut with layers”, one of many alleged secret signals aimed at help victims of domestic violence or human trafficking; the same clip was shared by the same person on Facebook on September 29, 2022:

@ledafazal It’s important to stay calm and natural if someone comes asking for an “angel cut” #angelcut #angelcutwithlayers #ledafazal #hairstylist #hairsalon #hairtok #humantraffickingawareness #domesticabuseawareness #hairedu #salonowner ♬ original sound – Leda HAIR 👑

The text visible at the very beginning of the video read “An ‘Angel Cut’ walk in”, and as is often the case in TikTok’s illustrative videos, the people in the video played more than one role. Fazal didn’t imply that the clip was “real”, and it was presented as obvious dramatization.

A woman portraying both the person in need of an “angel haircut” and the receptionist appeared first in the video, with Fazal as the hairdresser. The initial dialogue was as follows:

[Client requesting an “angel cut”]: “I’m here for my angel haircut.”

[Receptionist to client]”Okay! I’ll let Lena know you’re here.

[Receptionist to hairdresser]: “Hi baby?”

[Hairdresser to receptionist]: “Hey whats up?”

[Receptionist to hairdresser]: “Hey… your angel haircut is here.”

[Hairdresser to receptionist]: “Oh. Oh! Awesome. Very good. Thank you.”

The clip cuts Fazal and the customer/receptionist (differentiated by their jackets). The following line from Fazal was spoken at an extremely low volume, and the dialogue continued:

[Hairdresser to receptionist, whispering]”You need to call the authorities.”

[Receptionist to hairdresser]: “OK.”

[Hairdresser to client]”So you’re here for the angel cup?” [Pause] Impressive! OK. Let’s go and wash up, okay? Come with me.”

No other clues as to the underlying meaning of the dialogue emerged from the TikTok clip. A separate TikTok posted by the same user later the same day claimed that asking for “an angel cut with layers” would signal to a salon that the service was a “punitive haircut”.

A caption with hashtags on the initial TikTok alluded to domestic violence and human trafficking:

It’s important to stay calm and natural if someone comes asking for an “angel cut” #angelcut #angelcutwithlayers #ledafazal #hairstylist #hairsalon #hairtok #humantraffickingawareness #domesticabuseawareness #hairedu #salonowner

“Angel haircuts” and “a haircut angel with diapers” were one of many viral social media safety-related “codes” typically designed to allow a victim of domestic violence or human trafficking humans to – in theory – secretly signal for help. In fact, an extremely similar rumor claimed that asking for an “angel shot” at a bar would signal to the bartender that a patron thought they were in danger on the premises and required the intervention of staff.

As with an “angel cut with layers”, an “angel cut” would allegedly have modifiers. Asking for an “angel shot” with ice or lime would supposedly prompt staff to call the police or a taxi or rideshare:

One of the most common genres of modern folklore involves a code or tricks that savvy people can use against would-be attackers to stealthily seek help, exemplified more recently by a spike in gossip about the supposed life-saving abilities of “angel knocks” – a surreptitious device by which women who feel threatened by their dates can signal their need for assistance by issuing a code phrase under the guise of ordering a drink.

[…]

Here’s how it works: Order a neat angel shot and a bartender will escort you to your car. Ask for it with ice and the bartender will call you a taxi or an Uber. Order it with lime and the restaurant staff will call the police.

When the “angel kicks” went viral in 2017, human trafficking was not such a big concern on social media and therefore not part of the story. A February 2020 rumor allegedly told people how to make a “silent” call to emergency services, a November 2021 rumor covered a “fake cosmetics store” website where at-risk visitors could seek help from urgency while appearing to browse and order items, and a “black dot” signal performed a similar function as early as 2015.

A common thread running through all the rumors was a somewhat frequent and serious circumstance (intimate violence or human trafficking), offering what at first glance appeared to be a shrewd solution to a bad situation. Those trapped are expected to have extremely limited opportunities to seek help, which makes proposals such as “angel cuts” seem at first sight to be a viable lifeline.

However, “angel cuts”, “angel kicks”, and other means of surreptitiously signaling danger suffered from many functionally identical logical inconsistencies. In the TikTok example on “angel cuts”, for example, it was not clear if the customer was accompanied by someone – if he was a victim of human trafficking, it seems unlikely that they were allowed to visit a parlor or have conversations out of earshot of their captor, and if they were alone they could simply ask for help in plain language.

Another major pitfall we discussed with rumors like these came up at least once in the comments. Due to their viral nature, the “signals” are just as likely to become known to the abusers, putting the person in need of help at risk if they use the strategies and get caught:

As much as I like to broadcast this as a thing…. Isn’t it also simply teaching the kidnappers what to listen to?

Moreover, the signal-related rumors were vague in nature, intended to mask an urgent call for help – and were not guaranteed to be widely used. This aspect alone introduced a very possible and upsetting outcome, where a request like this goes unacknowledged and unanswered.

On our bogus cosmetics store page, we referenced another supposed security signal, one suggesting that 911 (999 in the UK) operators were universally trained to recognize any call with “commands of pizza” as a plea that necessarily alert the dispatcher to active domestic violence. We further referenced the “silent 999” rumor, which carried similar risks:

[An anecdotal comment on Reddit] quickly moved from an individual anecdote to rumors that 911 operators universally understood that calls asking for pizza were veiled reports of dangerous situations. This assumption could be dangerous, with the worst case scenario being a misunderstanding resulting in help that never arrives. … intermittent and unpredictable efficiency has been a factor in connecting people in need with the help of responders:

Essentially, a popular January 2020 Facebook post advising users to call 999 to dial 55 for a “silent” call has been decontextualized to the point of posing a risk to those exposed to the advice. A related long-running rumor that silent calls to 999 resulted in the police being dispatched has had fatal consequences, and in some cases callers who remain silent may be asked to dial 55 (or cough or to make another affirmative sound) to prevent the call from being automatically disconnected. In many cases, dialing 55 would have no effect, or callers would be prompted to validate the call in a different way.

It was not uncommon for people sharing the content to claim that it “couldn’t hurt”, that it could be useful “even once”, or that the larger purpose was to “raise awareness” of human trafficking and domestic violence. But there are better ways to raise awareness, and the dangers of both situations are dire; unreliable aid pathways could result in real harm.

Finally, the amplification of potentially dangerous advice unfortunately appeared as a guarantee of results (unlike the advice itself). Engagement stats on TikTok’s “angel cuts” far exceeded videos related to topics like hairstyles, and such “warnings” were more likely to attract uncritical media coverage and comments. mentions in the media.

A September 2022 article by a British tabloid The sun put forward the idea that “angel cuts” were a useful way for people in danger to seek reliable help from the authorities. Describing angel cuts as a “NEW trend… [going viral] for all the right reasons,” the outlet asserted, “the phrase is a secret code” known to “women and girls everywhere.”

Not too far in the room, The sun contradicted the “worldwide” claim by stating that the videos “educated” hairdressers to recognize it. The sun also provided a different explanation for “a cut angel with layers” than the clip linked above, unintentionally highlighting how unreliable the signals could be:

A NEW trend has hit TikTok – and this one has an important message behind it and is spreading around the world.

‘Angel cut with layers’ is going viral on the platform – and for all the right reasons… If you’ve been scrolling through TikTok, you might have stumbled upon the ‘angel cut with layers’ trending.

The phrase is a secret code used by women and girls around the world to notify their hairdressers that they are victims of domestic violence or in an abusive relationship.

When a girl or woman in a salon is asked how she would like her hair cut, if she responds with the phrase “angel cut with layers”, this is telling her hairdresser that she is being abused servant and that she is looking for help… Since her publication, many hairdressers have thanked her for educating them because they now know how to identify a victim and help them.

A TikTok rumor claimed that asking for an “angel haircut” would alert salons to domestic violence or human trafficking, while asking for an “angel haircut with diapers” would allow a customer to discreetly inform the company that the service was a “punitive haircut”. “Both signals were iterations of perennial rumors meant to identify ways for victims of abuse to get help without being detected by their abuser(s).

As noted above, “angel cuts” and such rumors shared the same massive flaws: the amplification of signals (necessary to introduce them) were also visible to attackers, there remained no guarantee that the signal would be understood, and there is little without any proof, the concepts really present a reliable lifeline for people in immediate danger.

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