CJ Scarlet has survived a brutal rape and a severe illness.
She’s been a Marine, a firefighter, entrepreneur and counselor. As director of victim’s issues for North Carolina’s attorney general, she pioneered a victim notification system that became a national model.
But she sees her latest project as her most important yet in curbing violence against women – a device about the size of a quarter she invented that will call police and start recording video footage as soon as the wearer yells “help.”
The Tiger Eye device is the first product Scarlet has spun off from a company she founded, called 10 for Humanity, whose goal is to create 10 products that will reduce violence 10 percent in 10 years. She hopes to see it on the market this year.
Last year, she was just one of a handful of Americans chosen to participate in a summer graduate program focused on using technology to solve social problems. Last week, she presented the idea to a conference for veteran entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C.
Those who know her say that while Scarlet’s impact can already be seen in the individuals she’s mentored and counseled and the programs she’s pioneered, it’s likely to be much larger in the coming years.
“She’s very much a visionary,” says Ann Jagger, owner of Southport Graphics, who is now on the Tiger Eye advisory board. “She’s going to make a huge impact with this, and it’s only the first piece of her puzzle as she seeks to reduce violence.”
A healing kindness
Scarlet was born in California, but her family moved to several states, including Arkansas and Georgia, with her father, a career Marine.
Ever energetic, her first job was as a roller-skating car hop at a Sonic Drive-In in Arkansas. After high school graduation, she went to work for the U.S. Forest Service, fighting wildfires and serving as a life guard at summer camps.
She went on to community college for one semester, and it was then that she was raped by a man she was dating. Date rape wasn’t yet a common term, and support for rape victims was minimal. Scarlet didn’t tell anyone but struggled with guilt and shame.
The experience led to her dropping out of school, but she didn’t stay idle long: She followed in the footsteps of her father and brothers and joined the Marines.
Scarlet says she was immediately in her element; she already knew how to handle a gun and was in great physical shape. She chose to train in journalism, and got an assignment as a press photographer.
“I got to interview generals and movie stars and ride in tanks,” she says. “It was such a fun job.”
She was discharged with a disability, and was later diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues.
Scarlet took advantage of her time off work by going to school, finishing her bachelor’s degree and earning a master’s degree focused on human violence.
One of her first jobs out of school was as director of Kids First in Edenton, the day care formerly known as Lil Rascals, which was still recovering from the well-publicized trial of its owner and staff on sex-abuse charges.
Her next job was as the victim’s advocate at the Attorney General’s Office, where she worked closely with victims, crafting policies to respond to their needs. One of those was an automated system that would notify victims when their perpetrators are released from prison.
From there, she cycled through a series of ventures. The first, an Internet company selling medical devices, seemed promising, but fell victim to a serious downturn in her health.
“I was so sick I would go up and down the stairs on my hands and knees,” she says. “I couldn’t turn a doorknob or brush my own teeth. Every second was agony.”
She was told her heart was enlarged, an intractable problem that would probably lead to her early death. Scarlet descended into depression, and eventually brought her sorrows to a Buddhist lama who surprised her with his response.
“I expected him to shower me with sympathy,” she says. “He told me to stop feeling sorry about myself and start worrying about the happiness of other people.”
She took the advice to heart, and went on an 18-month campaign of daily kindnesses that she believes turned her health around, everything from praying for the passenger when an ambulance went by to slipping inspirational messages into books at a store.
While her condition is a chronic one, she felt well enough by 2006 to start working again. Several ventures aimed at coaching and counseling fizzled during the recession, and she found herself searching for the next move.
Scarlet says the rape she endured at 19 was always in the back of her mind, and for many years it was a source of constant trauma, even when she was succeeding professionally.
She eventually sought counseling, and took solace in working with victims of violence. For her next venture she wanted to approach the problem in a different way – by using emerging technologies to prevent it rather than deal with its aftermath.
While she lacks a technical background, she wasn’t entirely in uncharted territory. She says her grandfather held several patents for automotive devices, and she has always been a tinkerer and devotee of the latest gadgets.
She came up with the idea for Tiger Eye by considering the key problem with many of the protection devices women use, from Mace to guns – the difficulty of employing them effectively.
“All of these things require you to have the mental and physical wherewithal to use them in a moment of chaos,” she says.
Tiger Eye fixes this problem by being voice activated and hands free, worn either on a pendant like a necklace or attached to clothing using a magnet.
When activated, the tiny device will connect to a security service that will tell the perpetrator to leave and call the authorities as the device starts filming the scene.
She sees it as particularly useful to joggers, real estate agents and others who are often in vulnerable situations.
A prototype is priced at about $150, though she hopes it might be sold for less in concert with a subscription to a security service.
She hired a CEO to keep that project on track while she works on ideas for the next nine products. Another in the works would use biometrics to measure a person’s unconscious responses to fear, helping to gauge the danger of a situation.
Jagger says the idea of inventing 10 products in a decade is not far-fetched: “If anyone can do it, she can.”
Cynthia Joyce “CJ” Scarlet
Born: 1961, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Awards: Ruby Award, Soroptimist International of Raleigh, 2014; Women in Business Award, Triangle Business Journal, 2012; YWCA Academy of Women, YWCA of the Greater Triangle, 2011; Trailblazer of the Year, Greater Women’s Business Council, 2011
Family: Sons Steven and Sean
Education: Bachelor of Arts, political science, Virginia Wesleyan College; Master of Arts, humanities, emphasis in human violence, Old Dominion University
Fun Fact: Scarlet has published a book, “Neptune’s Gift,” an inspirational story about a wave that is afraid to crash onto the shore.