‘We built this for us’: Device can help protect young women
As parents prepare to send their children off to college this fall, many are concerned about their kids' safety. One in four female college seniors has experienced sexual assault on campus, according to a recent survey by the Association of American Universities.
Jeanne Esguerra was a college student when a young man approached her in New Orleans and invited her to a party. She said yes. But instead of going to a party, he lured her to a parking garage.
“I think I knew in my gut, ‘Wow this doesn’t feel right,’ ” Esguerra said. “He was trying to kiss me, put his hands everywhere. And I’m trying to physically get away. I really fought and bit his arm. He ended up strangling me. I wasn’t actually conscious for the attack.”
When she came to, he was gone. She picked up her clothes and ran for help. Esguerra found a police officer who helped her go through the rape kit process. Years later when she lived in Flagstaff, the FBI found a DNA match and she was able to press charges and put her attacker away for 40 years.
She’s one of 20 million women in the U.S. who will be raped in her lifetime, according to Justice Department statistics.
Jacqueline Ros felt completely helpless when her teenage sister was sexually assaulted in Florida. Then it happened a second time.
“We were living in Weston, Florida,” Ros said. “It was one of the safest neighborhoods in America, very suburbia. Both times she was less than two miles from our house.”
Ros had an idea. What if her sister could just press a button to get help? So she designed one. It’s called Revolar, which means “to fly again” in Spanish. The device is small — 2 inches long — and clips under your clothes or on a keychain. Two clicks send an alert with your GPS location to friends, or contacts of your choice. Three clicks indicate you need 911 help now.
Ros is a couple of years out of college. She thought millennials might be more comfortable reaching out to friends than to the police. They could even use it to get out of a boring date.
“We built this for us,” Ros said. “We were our own target demographic.”
Ros and her co-founder launched a Kickstarter campaign almost two years ago, and then they convinced venture capitalists to pitch in $3 million. Once she found the tech-savvy people to build a prototype, the next step was finding a manufacturer and a retailer. In May, it was picked up by Brookstone and now sells for $99.
“It was a lot of naive confidence and sheer persistence of will,” Ros said. “I was just like, ‘Of course it’s going to happen. It needs to happen. And somebody is going to make it happen.’ ”
Alana Sudkamp, 20, will be a junior at the University of Arizona in Tucson in the fall. She said there are many occasions when she might find herself in vulnerable situations.
“When you’re going to the library during finals and stuff and you’re there until 3 in the morning and you have to walk back to your car,” Sudkamp said.
Sudkamp said it’s not always convenient or easy to call a friend, so a button like this would be useful.
“Some people feel not pressured, but they don’t feel like saying ‘no’ to guys and stuff,” Sudkamp said. “So I know some girlfriends who they would leave after a party and go back to (a guy's) place, but they really didn’t want to. They didn’t know how to get out of the situation.”
So she likes how discreet a button would be. Jeanne Esguerra, the woman assaulted at 19 in New Orleans, said she’s not sure if Revolar would have helped her.
“I don’t know if I could’ve done it without drawing attention,” Esguerra said.
Plus, Esguerra worries the device might give some people a false sense of security and possibly put them into a dangerous situation.
“ ‘Oh, I’m going to be OK because I have this little device,’ ” Esguerra said. “That isn’t going to protect you from somebody who moves very quick.”
Even if you have technology that makes you feel safe, she says all young women must be aware that predators exist. She says to always be vigilant and always trust your intuition.