From prevention to protest protection, Safe Squad is making young trauma survivors feel a little more safe
By Audra Heinrichs.
Last August, Mercedes Molloy, a 19-year-old student at The New School, launched Safe Squad, an app dedicated not only to building a community of sexual trauma survivors, but preventing others from suffering similar harm. At the time, Molloy saw the app simply as a weapon in one’s arsenal for potentially dangerous social situations like parties or dates. What it’s since become, however, is something far beyond what Molloy ever dreamed.
Like many advocates for the eradication of sexual violence, Molloy has endured a fair share of her own. Raped at 13 years old, at a time in which resources for survivors and more nuanced stories like those that came from the #MeToo movement in 2017 were harder to come by, she set her sights on creating a space for others like her. In her pursuit for peace of mind, Molloy did her research on other apps and online communities that purported to aid Gen Z and Millennial sexual abuse survivors. Many of them charged fees and weren’t intersectional in their approach.
“I really struggled to see myself represented and didn’t have specific survivor role models to look up to,” says Molloy, who is Latina.
It was ultimately that lack of representation that motivated Molloy, a political science major with zero experience in tech, to begin the creation and pitching process in 2018 alongside a mentor in her native Silicon Valley.
Safe Squad, designed to look like a calendar, allows Gen Z and Millennial users to input their time and location of an event they’re attending. Though it’s not technically a location services app, a list of user-approved friends and emergency contacts become the ‘squad’ that receive alerts. For instance, when the time of the event ends, the app reminds users to let their squads know they’re safe by verifying their identity via color-code. If the code is entered incorrectly, the SOS messaging system on the app sends a message to every member of a user’s squad and alerts them of their last confirmed location. If a user’s phone dies before their safety is confirmed with their emergency contacts, the app will send a message alerting them of such, alongside a final confirmed location.
A year has passed since the app first became available in the app store, and despite the vast and varied effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Molloy isn’t all that concerned about its future. Prior to the implementation of travel and gathering restrictions, Molloy held a number of in-person events, she’s just reached an agreement to expand the app’s contract with Apple, and Safe Squad is now available for download in 26 countries. In addition, the app partnered with Sephora Stands, the cosmetics company’s social impact initiative, for private confidence classes designed for trauma survivors.
Perhaps the most significant surprise for Molloy has been Safe Squad’s most recent functions. Though many of us aren’t going to many gatherings or on dates, thousands across the country have shown up to protests since May, often pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement. Molloy says many users have found Safe Squad useful for the protests, especially if they become separated from friends or family, injured, or are arrested. She also notes that she’s received a number of messages from survivors of domestic abuse situations who say the app has helped them maintain safety while under the same roof as their abusers during lockdown.
Hearing directly from users, particularly survivors, is an “emotional” experience for Molloy, and in the year ahead, the young CEO intends to shift her focus to building more of an internal, anonymous communications structure for users to safely connect with each other outside of their squads.
“Right now during COVID, the app is being used as intended, but I think people are really searching for community at this point in time and having access to connection and conversation. I would love to be able to work on that going forward.”
For now, Molloy is just glad the app is being used and by a wide breadth of users – people whose identities are just as nuanced as the trauma they face. “Being a survivor, I want to be there to uplift others to ensure no one has to say, ‘me too,’ the way I did.”