When statistics show that one in four women on college campuses across the United States will be the victims of sexual assault or rape, taking action is not a question, it is an imperative. There are new types of legislation being proposed to crack down on the epidemic (far too slowly – only California and New York currently have laws that require colleges to include verbiage in their code of conduct outlining what affirmative consent means in order to better prosecute cases of rape that are seen as “grey areas”) but new laws unfortunately don’t change mindsets that view women’s bodies as fair game.
While there needs to be a comprehensive overhaul of our culture when it comes to sexuality, including more education about equality and respect for one another, there are companies and organizations working elsewhere in society to help combat this epidemic.
We’ve seen a number of smartphone apps designed to help women feel safer while on college campuses and elsewhere, which also allow for a safety system to be put in place that alerts the friends and family of a woman immediately when she feels she is in danger. More recently, the We Consent app has gotten mixed reaction for the way is is structured to record a couple giving their consent in a video uploaded to the app, which some say won’t work.
Critics of the app say it negates two consenting adults being able to communicate their intentions with each other, however with the statistics showing communication doesn’t necessarily help victims of rape, we think these efforts are a vital part of a much–needed conversation.
One company that is aiming to make an impact on this issue is Roar for Good, a Philadelphia-based women’s safety wearable tech company who have just released their first product on the market called Athena. It is designed to be worn like a piece of jewelry that immediately alerts friends and family, and an emits an alarm to warn off attackers in the event a woman is in a situation where she feels unsafe.
In a bid to use our platform to share helpful information that will arm women with the knowledge they need, we spoke with the CEO and Co-founder Yasmine Mustafa to find out the motivation behind this product and why she believes it will help women across the country.
Tell us in a nutshell what Roar for Good does?
In a nutshell, the company was created to empower women to live their lives boldly and without fear. We’re a social impact B-corp developing safety jewelry for women and investing part of the proceeds in educational programs that combat violence.
Our first product is called Athena after the Greek goddess of courage and wisdom. It’s jewelry that can be worn as a necklace, clipped to clothing, or attached to a key fob. It has a button on it that can be pressed whenever the wearer feels threatened. Once activated, it emits a loud alarm to deter attackers and sends text messages to family and friends with their current location. We are also working on a solution to enable it to automatically call 911 or an emergency number.
How did you come up with the idea for Athena?
It evolved over time. First, I went solo trekking across South America for 6 months. Everywhere I stayed, I met women who had been assaulted. A week after I returned, a woman was brutally raped a block from my apartment. Everything hit home at once when I read the news story and that’s when the idea was born. Initially, I thought about what women use to protect themselves and thought the biggest weakness of self-defense tools were that you had to pull them out of your pocket or purse. So I thought, hmm…why not make them wearable so they’re easily accessible. The first product was going to be called the “Macelet” – Mace in a bracelet.
I put a survey together and shared it with everyone I knew. I learned it was actually a terrible idea. That women didn’t like existing solutions like pepper spray, tasers, and knives because they were too aggressive for their liking, they felt intimidated by them, and most significantly, they were afraid they would be overpowered and their own device would be used against them. I went back to the drawing board to design something that is safe to the wearer, and thus Athena was born.
You have trekked solo across the world. Where did you go and what was the most startling thing you learned?
I started at Ecuador and did a 4-week Spanish immersion program where I went to Spanish school and stayed with a local family. From there, I went to Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru, spending about a month in each country. The trip was life-changing. I faced some internal struggles I didn’t realize I had, I put myself out of my comfort zone by going to new places, eating different food, and meeting new people every day.
One of the most startling aspects of the trip is realizing how prevalent attacks against women are, with both locals and travelers alike. I didn’t visit one town where I didn’t hear a horrifying story, first or second-hand. Another was also realizing that as humans we’re all the same. We may dress differently, speak in another language, have different skin, and have distinct beliefs – deep down we’re all the same.
Why is raising awareness about domestic violence and gender violence so important to you?
While I was born in Kuwait, my family was whisked away when I was 8 years old during the Persian Gulf War. I feel like I cheated the “birth lottery.” I should have had a different life with limited opportunities but I didn’t, and I realize how lucky I am. I follow the injustice of how women are treated in other countries and have had a lifelong passion for championing the undeserved.
As I started digging into the statistics – 1 in 3 women have experience dating violence or domestic abuse, 1 in 4 college females will be sexually assaulted, 1 in 5 women have experienced rape or attempted rape – I became horrified at the epidemic of violence against women. As a technologist, I wanted to do something to help and as an individual, I wanted to do something that had a lasting impact.
Here in the United States sexual assault on college campus has become an epidemic. Why is it imperative that we not just be bystanders and raise our voices?
You are right on – the stats are horrific and the trends aren’t good. To address, we need to realize the severity of the situation and develop programs and solutions that can make a difference. Education is a huge piece of this, particularly as we see the correlation between the drop in empathy rates and the increase in sexual assaults. Another component is bystander training and empowerment – what should we do if we find ourselves witnessing an assault. How should we respond when we hear misogynistic jokes? To have these questions be honestly considered, we need to engage the masses – both men and women across all demographics.
We have seen the rise in a number of apps and ideas to help prevent or report rape, how do you hope Athena will contribute to the broader message of sexual assault not being tolerated?
It’s unfortunate that devices and apps like this are required, but it’s great to see so much interest and initiative around helping reduce assaults against women. In particular, as a social-mission B-corp, we don’t want to just put a bandaid on the problem. In addition to the jewelry, ROAR is committed to getting to the root causes of violence against women.
That’s why for every Athena device purchased, we are investing a percentage of proceeds into non-profits that are teaching young boys and young girls about empathy, respect, and healthy relationships – programs that have proven to reduce violence into adulthood. We want to not only imagine such a violence-free world, we want to help bring that one step closer toward fruition.
What message do you think men need to hear about this issue?
We refer to these issues of assaults against women, harassment, empowerment, etc. as “women’s issues”. These aren’t women’s issues – these are societal issues. As a society, we need to address these inequalities and have the courage to not only take a stand, but drive positive change. It requires both women and men to help spread the word, lead by example, and model the change that benefits all of society.
Each person can make a difference in their sphere of influence, no matter how small. In particular, each man who recognizes the issues and takes some initiative to address – be it speaking to other men, educating young boys, appropriately responding as a bystander if necessary, etc. – can help inspire other men to take a similar position. Together, men and women can make a huge difference.