Holding keys between fingers, carrying pepper spray, sharing live locations – most, if not all, women share the feeling of unsafety when they walk alone at night. The systemic failure to address this issue has left women to their own devices, pushing innovators to come up with their own solutions.
Neta Schreiber founded SafeUP in November 2019. The app strives to prevent cases of sexual harassment and assault against women by creating a community-driven safety network and a guardian system. In this interview, we discuss the development of the app, inclusivity, and female leadership in the MeToo world.
Neta founded the company following a personal incident ten years ago: at a house party, she noticed that one of her friends went missing. While she and her group of friends were looking for her, Neta heard screams from one of the rooms. When she opened the door, they saw her friend half naked in a fight with two guys above her. As soon as they noticed Neta and the other friend entering the room, the men ran away. Neta knew that they had managed to change the whole situation, and learned that there is strength in numbers.
Enter SafeUP. Neta founded SafeUP to create an app which women can use when they feel unsafe, find themselves in real (or potential) danger, and require support, guidance or physical assistance.
What is the main mission of SafeUP and how does the app work?
SafeUP is a social network which enables women to use the app whenever they feel unsafe, find themselves in (real or potential) danger, and require support, guidance, or physical assistance. SafeUP strengthens the sense of security of women and girls in public spaces by ensuring that every woman feels safe by connecting them quickly and effectively with trained guardians nearby. A SafeUP guardian is a woman who has undergone the SafeUP training process. The SafeUP Community Members know that there are always other women looking after them, who are immediately available if required.
When a SafeUP community member feels insecure, she can open her app to see the number of guardians in her area who are available to assist where necessary. The app will connect the community member to the 2-3 nearest and available guardians who will escort and support the community member in need.
The crowd-sourcing nature of the app stresses the importance of community and mutual support to make the world a safer space. How do you incorporate community members into the workings of the app?
With the SafeUP app, our members are able to feel an immediate sense of confidence simply by viewing their nearby guardians on their screen. All community members can tap ‘call guardians’ for help anytime and will be accompanied until they feel safe – by phone, video, or in person, 24/7.
Our guardian community consists of women over the age of 18 who are prepared to help other community members feel safer. They will also have volunteered to undergo a training process within the SafeUP app.
The SafeUP community has spread beyond the virtual realm: today, there are also local communities for women and girls. The leaders of these communities are called Community Managers in the city and Ambassadors on university campuses. Both roles consist of leading the guardians in their area, creating content, organising events, and relating to local authorities to strengthen their communities.
What’s your approach to ensuring equality and inclusivity? How do you make SafeUP accessible for trans/non-binary users?
When the app is downloaded and the member registers, she goes through a registration process, at the end of which the team verifies through her details that she is a woman and can join the network. Our community welcomes members of the LGBTQ+ community and our verification process is equal for all users. After verifying and activating her profile, she will be able to see a map of her area with the guardians’ locations on her home screen.
Could you talk about the importance of businesses joining SafeUP to become ‘safe places’ within the app?
Safe Places is one of the next steps we will be implementing soon. Working with businesses, we will be able to direct our community members to a specific business when they feel unsafe. They can also choose to spend their time or money at a business who joined a pledge to keep women safe.
What have been some rewarding moments since starting SafeUP, when you realised just how much impact the app has on the world?
After every single call, we reach out to the community member who initiated the call and the guardians who answered. The stories we hear lift our spirits every day.
Lee, a SafeUP Guardian shared: “One evening, I heard the cell phone vibrate endlessly. It was midnight, so I wondered: who could it be? I realised that it was a call from the app, so I clicked and saw that the SafeUp Community Member was really close to my house. She said that there was someone following her and that she was really scared. She asked me if I could go and accompany her, and I said of course I could! I went to her location and when I arrived, the man just turned his back and walked away. I calmed her down and offered to call someone who could take her home.”
Hailey, another SafeUP Guardian, shared her experience during a sports activity: “I was on my way to an evening basketball practice at my high school. When I reached the school’s gate, I noticed that everything was pitch black. I froze and called a friend, but they didn’t answer. I remembered the SafeUP app and opened it to call the guardians. Three amazing ladies that live nearby answered and spoke with me until I reached the basketball court. A scary experience was transformed by a short phone call with strangers.”
You founded SafeUP in 2019, a few years after the MeToo movement shifted the global perspective. Has your experience of female leadership changed since that time?
Unfortunately, even after the MeToo movement, women still feel unsafe in the streets. There is a reason why 100k users downloaded our app. I believe that MeToo has been a very important force in achieving the final goal of women feeling safe in any situation. But until then, we still need to make our own efforts to keep women safe. The best way that I have found to do that is to make sure that women are looking after one another and crowdsourcing their security.
Do you have any pieces of advice for people who also want to make the world a safer space for women, but don’t know where to start?
The first two easy steps are to join SafeUP and undergo the guardian training, which takes 10 minutes. I love that the process is a two-way street: one day I might make a Safe Call to get me safely to my destination, and the next day I might receive a call from a community member that needs me as a guardian.
There are so many ways to utilise the technology around us to make the world a safer place. I chose SafeUP, and I encourage every woman (and girl) to think of what the world is lacking today and go out of her comfort zone to make it come true.
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What are your plans for the future – for SafeUP and for you personally?
I envision SafeUP becoming a movement and a community. At this point, we have local groups of guardians who get together outside of the virtual world of the app and educate themselves on ways to make women feel more safe everywhere. I wish that SafeUP will keep finding ways to use tech to create a better world for women and that the movement will grow all over the world.