What Thousands of Students Have Taught Us About Safety
When Sara and I started Flare, we knew that the first thing we needed to do was talk to people, thousands of people in fact, about their personal safety experiences. We did this because our stories and the stories we kept hearing from our friends did not match the situations that the personal safety industry told us we would be in. We set out to bridge that gap by getting feedback and doing the in-person research ourselves.
We wanted to know what students were actually experiencing vs the stereotypes (walking down a dark alley…), and how those situations varied. Over the last two years, we worked with incredible local organizations, like the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and Respond, Inc, and conducted one-on-one interviews with survivors, focus groups, workshops, large 3rd party surveys, and beta testing.
The lessons we have learned have become the foundation for Flare as a brand and as a product —not only did we listen to what we were hearing but we acted on that information to iterate and make Flare better. We want to share some of those lessons with you.
- Safety is a spectrum, it’s not black and white. Being in an unsafe situation doesn’t always mean that you’re in a clear-cut emergency. In fact, more than 80% of sexual assaults on college campuses happen with someone you know, likely in a familiar place. When we spoke to people about what kinds of situations they ended up in most, they talked about being in uncomfortable conversations where something felt off but they weren’t sure what the other person’(s) intent was. They got a feeling in the pit of their stomach or the hair on the back of their neck stood up, but they were not sure how to get out of the situation without setting off alarm bells or escalating things.
- These kinds of situations are not rare one-offs, in fact they happen quite frequently especially to women and people in the LGBTQ community.
- And because they happen frequently it is often hard to tell the difference between an awkward conversation and a threatening situation. So oftentimes people will “stick it out” and wait to get more information before taking any action to get out of or change the situation.
- They happen in environments where you want to succeed - either personally or professionally - where different power and social dynamics are often at play. While no two assaults are the same, we did notice a lot of patterns. Folks kept telling us that in the moment they kept wishing for someone to just come and knock on the door. They were hoping for an interruption so that they had an excuse to leave because saying “hey I am not feeling comfortable right now and want to leave” can feel like it will jeopardize your reputation in a way that it shouldn't and can feel like it will escalate the situation to become more dangerous.
- Safety is deeply personal - it is not one size fits all. Just as people have different clothing styles or different tastes in music, people have different preferences for what they want to happen in an iffy situation. And those preferences change depending on how you are feeling, where you are, who you are with and so much more. Sometimes the right thing for you in the moment is to say that you are uncomfortable and sometimes it is to call for backup - but only you will know what is right for you in that situation.
These five lessons are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the important things we’ve learned through our research so far. I look forward to sharing more with you and encourage you to talk to your friends and loved ones about what they have experienced. These kinds of conversations can shed light on misconceptions and help us change how people think about personal safety.