For chief technology officer Meredith Von Feldt, the story of Sava begins with a roommate texting system.

“My roommates and I have this emoji system, like a code word system, where when someone sends a certain emoji it means they are in an uncomfortable situation and need help getting out,” Von Feldt said.

Little did she know that this system would become the basis for an application that prevents sexual assault and online danger.

Von Feldt eventually met Carolyn Allen, who would become Sava’s CEO, and co-founder April Gantz in the BYU Sandbox Startup program where students are put into groups to solve problems. As they teamed up they decided to create something that would help aid in the aftercare of sexual assault and dating violence. 

As they got to work, they realized they could help fill a void in the issue that hadn’t been addressed for some time.

We must confront child sexual abuse

The creation

They began meeting with leading researchers on sexual assault such as BYU’s Julie Valentine, law enforcement officers and Title IX directors. Those conversations quickly put an emphasis on the urgent need for assault prevention.

“As we were talking with researchers and experts we were advised to actually go more into the prevention side because there is more of a need in that area,” Allen said.  

Research by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, found that 1 in every 6 American women and about 3% of American men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Sava’s goal is to help make this statistic not so common.

April Teames Gantz, Sava head of design and co-founder, shows the Sava app, which aims to make dating safer, at The Startup Building in Provo on Friday, July 1, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

For a texting code word system to work there needs to be someone actively waiting on the other end, but sometimes there isn’t someone available to be on call. When that happens, Sava is there to help.

“We realized that we could automate this in an application so that you don’t have to rely on someone and that this could help those who have no one around,” Von Feldt said.

One common question these students hear is why can’t people just leave an uncomfortable situation. Research has shown that this isn’t an easy answer, especially for young people who make up a majority of sexual assault victims. 

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RAINN’s research determined that the majority of sexual assault victims are under the age of 30, making up about 69% of the sexual assaults victims in America.

“We have noticed that many individuals have a difficult time leaving those uncomfortable scenarios and need support to help them know that they can get out safely,” Allen said. 

April Teames Gantz, Sava head of design and co-founder, shows the Sava app, which aims to make dating safer, at The Startup Building in Provo on Friday, July 1, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

What the app does

The app currently offers options to send yourself a fake text or call, call the police or have the app notify previously designated contacts. The fake calls and texts give users reasons to leave a situation they feel uncomfortable in with extra measures if the situation escalates.

“Some individuals don’t have the social capital to have a quick exit strategy with someone that they know because they might be in a new city or they don’t have reliable friends. We want to give these vulnerable populations the support system they need,” Allen said.

Research published by the Sage Journal in 2018 found that as the use of technology has grown, so has the trend of sexual violence through technology.  

“This need is great especially in online dating or even online friend meet ups. There has been a large increase of sexual assault rates with the increase of technology use,” Allen said.

Call to action

The app was first designed for dating situations, but the students hope to broaden it to become a tool for a variety of safety concerns.

“We began with the use case of dating but this app can and should be applied to a lot of different situations. Whether you are meeting up with an online friend you don’t know well, going to the gym, or even with your neighbor, this app can help,” Gantz said.

From here, they want to take the application and make it more user-friendly by curating the software to be more personal with each user’s unique situation.

“We’re working to make our phone calls and text prompts more customizable for the user. We also are looking into making part of the app an interactive educational tool that helps people understand consent, online safety, how to notice red and green flags in relationships and more,” Gantz said.

For now, the goal is to get the app into as many hands as possible.

“We can’t prevent all sexual assaults even though we wish we could. We hope anyone reading this can help spread the word so we can start making a bigger impact. Whether it is in your school, business or social circles, this is a great resource for people to use,” Allen said.

Sava head of design April Teames Gantz, left, chief technical officer Meredith Von Feldt and chief executive officer Carolyn Allen pose for a portrait at The Startup Building, a co-working space they use, in Provo on Friday, July 1, 2022. Their app Sava aims to make dating safer. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News