I first heard of Mercedes Molloy while casually browsing Instagram stories on my phone, landing eventually on one posted by BUILT BY GIRLS, a national organization which advocates for girls who hope to pursue STEM. On that day, Mercedes was doing an Instagram takeover on BUILT BY GIRLS’s Instagram story regarding her newly released app, Safe Squad. Curious about her story and the app’s mission, I watched on, and I was immediately inspired by her resilience, determination, and commitment to change.
Safe Squad is an SOS messaging app that is available on all devices and serves as a hub of information for family and friends. In a dangerous situation, users of the app are able to alert their family and friends of their location, and the app will also notify the authorities and users’ emergency contacts.
Mercedes was inspired to create the app after experiencing trauma of her own. “For a long time, I struggled with the fact that I was raped. I was angry and frankly did not understand how people could get away with such terrible things,” she stated. “But then I realized that although I couldn’t change what happened to me in the past, I had the power to change my narrative and become empowered by helping others who are unable to speak out. For me, that was the best part of healing. I became the role model that I’d always hoped to see, and I am proud to be a part of survivor-based advocacy and contribute to a solution for a better and safer world.”
Safe Squad is unique in its emphasis on privacy, individualistic approach, and inclusive user interface. To ensure maximum stealth and safety, the external interface of the app appears like a calendar, ensuring that it won’t be recognized by a potential perpetrator as a safety/SOS messaging app. Additionally, Safe Squad is not a location services app; after all, not everyone wants to be constantly monitored or tracked, particularly in an age where privacy seems more out of reach than ever before. Regarding a potential trade-off between safety and privacy, “we don’t believe you should ever have to compromise one over the other,” explained Mercedes. “We emphasize both privacy and protection. We provide the app, but it is dependent on the user to manually enable their emergency contacts and input the event details of their location and time frame.” If a user reveals that they are in danger to the app, the automatic SOS messaging system within the app will be triggered and will alert the user’s chosen emergency contacts with details of their location.
Currently, many other SOS messaging apps are based on one’s ability to pay, solely cater to specific demographics, serve as mainly location services apps, are not discreet in their external interface, or are good in theory but fall short in terms of functionality. However, Safe Squad is completely free; inclusive of all demographics, regardless of gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, or socioeconomic status; private and relies on the user to enable location features; discreet in its outward appearance; and equipped with a variety of features to ensure maximum accessibility and safety.
However, making the app hasn’t been an experience without obstacles for Mercedes. “I have certainly encountered naysayers—those who have completely disregarded me and my ideas because of my gender, age, and ethnicity,” she stated. “They’ve made statements such as ‘hope isn’t a successful business model,’ insinuating that I was just another young person with her head in the clouds. I have also worked for individuals who wanted me to be their ‘token young person of minority identity.’ Initially, they claimed to love my passion and ideas, so I didn’t realize it until later on that they were simply using me as a face for their marketing campaign in order to profit off me.”
Despite these challenges, Mercedes is thankful for the experiences that creating the app has given her and has big plans for its future. “As a result of Safe Squad, I have had the opportunity to meet other survivors and have found comfort in our shared experience,” she expressed. “Even though the reason we confided in each other was not positive, I am thankful to have met so many inspirational women who encourage me to continue to progress in both my healing journey and the app. This also happens to be what I love most about creating the app.”
With an eye on connectivity, Mercedes hopes to create a greater community of survivors and advocates which transcends the app itself. She is currently working to establish additional partnerships with universities and the police and provide Safe Squad as a resource to them in investigations. She hopes to spread awareness for Safe Squad and help as many individuals in vulnerable settings as possible through continuous updates, future collaborations, and sponsorships.
In the future, Mercedes aspires for Safe Squad to be pre-installed in every smartphone in the U.S. as a precautionary measure, and later even be made available in different languages and have a global reach. Currently, the app is only available to residents of the United States and the United Kingdom. “For some, financial success is their overall goal. For me, it’s about helping to ensure the safety of others. To me, if I am able to impact someone’s life, that brings me all the joy in the world.”
Download Safe Squad here.
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