RALEIGH — After two decades of trying to help victims deal with the trauma of violence, CJ Scarlet began to wonder: In an age of hands-free technology, why should criminals still have the upper hand?
She is now working on a wearable device – the size of a pendant or pin – that could deter violence against women in a way that a can of pepper spray or a concealed .38 can’t when they’re at the bottom of a purse.
Scarlet’s invention, called “TESS,” for Tiger Eye Security Sensor, would combine several existing technologies to activate when its wearer is in danger; issue a warning to an attacker; summon help to a specific location; and capture video and sound recordings that later could be used to identify and prosecute a criminal.
“Women spend most of their lives being afraid,” said Scarlet, who lives in Clayton. “It’s time to stop being afraid.”
Using funding from an Indiegogo crowd-sourcing campaign now underway, Scarlet hopes to get TESS into production and on the market early next year. It would be the first product from a company Scarlet founded in February called 10 for Humanity, with a mission to develop 10 new products in 10 years that use emerging technologies to help stop rape, domestic violence and bullying.
The work grew out of Scarlet’s history as a victims’ advocate, her fascination with gadgetry and her own experience with sexual assault as a 19-year-old Marine recruit.
Born on Camp Pendleton Marine base in California, Scarlet grew up in Arkansas and followed her father into service in 1981. But after her recruiting officer promised her the photojournalism job she wanted, she said, he raped her. If she resisted, she said, he threatened to use his influence to get her assigned as a cook instead.
She didn’t report the crime and lived with the sense of shame it caused her for the next 20 years before finally seeking counseling to help her understand it wasn’t her fault.
Scarlet got out of the Marine Corps in 1986. She moved to the East Coast, and eventually became director of victims issues for the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, where she helped the state launch an automated system to notify victims of crime when their offender has scheduled court events or is about to be released from prison.
That was Scarlet’s first glance at the use of technology in criminal justice and crime fighting. “And I was hooked,” she said.
Scarlet is the mother of two sons and was married to Wesley Walters, who was working with nonprofits and law enforcement agencies through the N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission when he died in June.
Much of Scarlet’s work, she said, has been centered on helping the victims of violence deal with their trauma. But all those programs, she said, share a huge handicap; they begin after the damage is done.
“Wouldn’t it be better if we prevented the violence from happening in the first place?” she said.
Since launching 10 for Humanity, Scarlet has hired two employees and has others working on contract. She also has enlisted the help of N.C. State University’s Industrial Extension Service, which helps North Carolina companies improve productivity and quality, as well as RTI International, which is helping her scout the technology companies that can design and build the miniaturized features that will make TESS work.
Kami Baggett, a manager in the extension service’s Research Triangle region, said Scarlet is the rare woman in the world of startups focused on technology.
Baggett and Moline Prak Pandiyan, an innovation adviser at RTI, said there are companies in North Carolina that can provide the technology for TESS.
“What we’re doing now is finding the expertise for miniaturization, and putting all these elements together,” Pandiyan said.
She expects the device will sell for $100 to $125, and would be popular among women 40 and over, who would buy it for themselves, their daughters or their mothers.
Mikki Paradis, owner of PDI Drywall in Raleigh, met Scarlet through a local group of women entrepreneurs. When Scarlet described the mission of her company, Paradis said, “I kind of rolled my eyes and said, ‘What technology is someone going to come up with that’s going to reduce violence against women?’
“I just didn’t have the vision that she had.”
Paradis grew up in a tough public housing development in Florida, she said, “and I pretty much lived my whole childhood in fear.” She knew girls who were raped in middle school or high school, and some of them never recovered from the trauma.
“In a sense, it’s like a death sentence,” she said. “I think of all the girls who could be our future presidents but because of the violence they experience, that fire gets extinguished.
“So I’m really excited about this invention. I think it has endless possibilities. I think it could change the world.”
It’s a start, Scarlet says.
“It’s not going to stop all crime for all time, but it’s going to make a dent,” she said. Most important, “It will show women they have a choice; they don’t have to live in fear.”