When Yasmine Mustafa set off on a six-month jaunt through South America two years ago, she expected to learn languages, make friends and sample the local cuisine. But she soon discovered that there was a sobering aspect to her journey as well.
“In each of the six countries I visited, I kept meeting women who told me stories about assault,” Mustafa said. “It was this repetitive theme throughout my trip.”
Shortly after Mustafa returned home to Philadelphia, she decided to develop a tool that improves upon pepper spray and other tools commonly prescribed to thwart an attack. The device, called Athena, has a button that emits a loud alarm and sends an alert to friends and family with the user’s location. “The idea is to use the element of surprise against someone else,” Mustafa said.
Women in the focus groups Mustafa held explained that the weapons they’ve been traditionally advised to carry for protection can be difficult to access during an assault. Furthermore, those defenses could easily be turned against them. “We found that women don’t like self-defense tools to begin with because they’re afraid of being overpowered,” Mustafa said. Other widespread problems included the fact that they often forgot to carry them or to use them when under attack and that mace isn’t legal in all 50 states.
Mustafa’s company, ROAR for Good, raised $250,000 from local investors to design and manufacture Athena, which can be worn as a necklace or attached to clothing, handbags and key chains. The company launched an Indiegogo campaign Tuesday to accept pre-orders for the device. Mustafa plans to sell the Athena for $99 at retail, but the device starts at $60 on Indiegogo. ROAR invests 10% of its proceeds in non-profit organizations that address the root causes of assault: lack of empathy and ignorance of what constitutes a healthy relationship.
Mustafa says Athena’s design addresses the prevailing concerns she heard from the women she interviewed: it’s accessible, unlikely to be forgotten and unable to be used against the person wearing it. It also has a silent-mode that college students requested to alert emergency contacts nearby without notifying an attacker.
ROAR is still developing the sound the alarm will make—police sirens and nails on a chalkboard are among the possibilities under consideration—but says it will produce a noise of around 90 decibels, the equivalent of a jackhammer or train whistle. The company is also working on adding a function that dials 9-1-1.