After two decades of helping victims cope with the trauma of violence, CJ Scarlet began to wonder: In the 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 pepper spray or a handgun 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.”
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Using voice-activated technology, the device will pick up on stress in the voice of the person wearing it.
Last week, Scarlet met with women leaders in Raleigh to ask for their support in spreading awareness about the product.
Jennifer Parser, an attorney, moved to Raleigh after spending 30 years in New York City. While there, she had to constantly pay attention to her surroundings and be aware that something dangerous could happen to her.
She supports Scarlet’s idea.
“She has found a need that hasn’t been met yet,” Parser said.
Kami Baggett works at the Industrial Extension Service, a part of N.C. State University that helps businesses find technologies to help them create their products. The group looks at a business idea and gives feedback to the entrepreneur about how feasible the idea is.
TESS got the stamp of approval.
“It will definitely work,” Baggett said of the design. “It’s extremely innovative, and we haven’t seen anything as sophisticated as this device.”
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 she founded in February called 10 for Humanity. Its mission is 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.
Scarlet 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 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.