How Yasmine Mustafa’s Athena device is changing how we talk about sexual assault

And the one thing her company, ROAR for Good, is doing that its founder says isn’t getting enough attention.

Left: ROAR for Good's first product, Athena. Right: Co-founder and CEO Yasmine Mustafa

Left: ROAR for Good's first product, Athena. Right: Co-founder and CEO Yasmine Mustafa

After Yasmine Mustafa sold her first company, she was feeling burned out by 30. She’d fled Kuwait as a child and had been working since she was 9 years old, so in the summer of 2013, the young Philly entrepreneur also sold off her apartment and went backpacking through South America.

Though she describes the trip to Columbia, Bolivia, Argentina and more as “life-changing,” it was also frustrating — she couldn’t stop hearing stories about women being sexually harassed or attacked. That’s when her new company ROAR for Good and, eventually, its first product — Athena — was born.

The now Philly-based ROAR for Good had a whirlwind 2015, marked by an October crowdfunding campaign that exceeded its fundraising goal by some 500 percent. All those contributors were backing and pre-ordering Athena, a device the diameter of a quarter aimed squarely at decreasing assaults — both sexual and not — by arming women with a way to alert their family and friends if something is happening to them.

ROAR is busy working to fill 4,500 pre-orders for the product that starts at $79. And Mustafa says it could be the year she and her colleagues continue researching other applications for Athena, whether it’s seniors prone to falling or parents trying to keep track of handicapped children.

How it works

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The inconspicuous device comes in three different colors and is meant to be worn by women either on their clothes, bag or another place that feels comfortable. Once activated, it emits an alarm and sends text messages to emergency contacts with information about the user’s location.

One of the features that makes it different from other similar products on the market is that it has two separate functions. An alarm mode is meant for what Mustafa called “opportunistic attacks,” or the smaller percentage of attacks on women that happen by a stranger. This mode emits a loud alarm when a woman feels she’s in danger.

But Athena also features a “silent mode,” which Mustafa says is geared toward the much higher percentage of attacks perpetrated by a person known to the victim. When triggered, Athena omits the audible alarm and sends location information to emergency contacts.

Athena’s use cases were developed after a year of research that included not only meetings with rape crisis centers and experts, but also “mock attacks” that studied how women used the device so it could avoid accidental alarms.

Critics have said women shouldn’t need to wear something in order to not be sexually assaulted, and that ROAR for Good should focus on underlying issues and aim to stop aggressors before they sexually assault.

“We’ve had people say this perpetuates rape culture,” Mustafa said. “But there is no technology that is going to help our dream, which is that these kind of devices will no longer be needed one day. So it’s really the education that’s key.”

The social justice aspect

What she means by education is that she says that after a person buys a product from ROAR for Good, 10 percent of their purchase will be donated to educational programs across the world that have been shown to increase empathy and reduce violent behavior — thus, she says, fulfilling the mission of also addressing underlying causes of assaults. In addition, 10 percent of the crowdfunding proceeds went to One Love, an organization that raises awareness about domestic abuse and the warning signs of relationship violence.

Mustafa said this aspect of ROAR for Good’s mission has been somewhat ignored, but she sees it as one of the most important pieces of what the group is trying to do.

“It’s the educational piece that gets us most excited about the potential of what we’re doing,” she said. “None of us are naive enough to think we can end it, but the goal is to transform societies so we don’t need these types of devices in the future.”

Folks purchasing Athena also have the opportunity to spend extra money on the product that will soon retail for $99 in order to purchase a device to donate to a woman who may need it but can’t afford it. Mustafa said the goal is to soon manufacture the product so it can get smaller and cheaper in the future so that it can be used by more women not burdened by the price.

What’s coming up for the company

ROAR for Good raised $215,000 in a seed round, and now has thousands of pre-orders to fill after the successful crowdfunding campaign that netted more than $300,000. Now that the company is looking to get into retail, Mustafa said the company is looking to raise series A funding, and will begin approaching investors in late January.

They’re also looking to fill and ship pre-orders by late May or early June.

But Mustafa said the company could also begin to look into other applications for Athena. Though it was created through the desire to cut down on women being attacked — and that’s largely what it’s been marketed toward so far — feedback to the company has shown people want the device for different things. Some said they want it for their diabetic or handicapped child. Others have said it would be perfect for a parent with dementia.

“We want to create different devices based on different needs,” she said. “There’s so many opportunities, it’s overwhelming.”

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