Domestic violence is no joke. In the United States, 1 and 3 women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. To put that into perspective, in the U.S., on average, every minute nearly 20 people are physically abused by a partner. Domestic abuse accounts for 15% of all violent crimes. Domestic violence isn't just prevalent in the States but is a global issue. The WHO estimates that about 30% of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Globally, as many as 38% of all murders are committed by intimate partners. This number was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a ‘shadow pandemic’, as domestic violence cases reached an all-time high.

Israel is no different. Domestic violence contributes to moderate, severe, and critical injuries in a quarter of abused hospitalized women. Among these women, 20% had such severe injuries that they needed surgery, and 2% of them succumbed to their wounds. For most cases (53%), the spouse or ex-spouse caused the injury. In 2020, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and its related lockdowns, there was a 75% increase in domestic violence reported in Israel. The Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) announced that its Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Domestic Violence recorded a 300% increase in the number of referrals and an increase of about 250% in the number of patients since the first lockdown.

Domestic violence does not only fall under the umbrella of crime but is in fact a global health problem as well; not only does it affect the physical health of victims, but it can also have serious psychological outcomes. It can lead to homicide or suicide, injuries, unintended pregnancies, and gynecological problems like STIs, miscarriages and stillbirths, depression, PTSD, and a slew of other consequences. That is why people like Lee Sharir, co-founder, and CEO of Relyon, do what they do.

Relyon is a voice-activated platform for personal safety. Think of it as a voice-based emergency button. Using voice algorithms with machine learning models, the platform allows for maximum privacy, low latency, and reliable results. The app can be used for victims of domestic abuse, such as young women, teenagers, and kids, but can also be used as a safety tool for independent elderly people and lone workers.

How it works

Users download the app or activate the Relyon service through a hosted app and select actions for emergencies. Such actions include having an SMS be sent with your accurate location, automatically calling someone from your contacts, recording the situation, activating a siren, or sending a distress signal to a security center. Once activated, if a user is in an emergency, they say the designated code words, and the preselected action will be performed automatically. The app connects users with the most suitable service be it an emergency call center, private healthcare institution, or security company.

In a conversation with Geektime, Sharir described why she started Relyon, how she came up with the idea, and how she hopes the app will help users.

Inspired by Michal Sela

The idea for Relyon started as part of a hackathon; Lee Sharir was participating in the Safe@Home hackathon for Michal Sela. Michal Sela was an Israel woman who was brutally murdered by her husband in her own home with her baby daughter present. After the horrific tragedy, Michal’s sister, Lily Ben Ami founded the Michal Sela Forum to memorialize Michal. The goal of the forum is to save anyone else from the atrocities that can come from domestic violence. The idea is to use out-of-the-box thinking and advanced technologies to help victims of abuse and those in crisis.

“I was active in many different frameworks that promote women, and wanted to do something to support them,” said Sharir. She explained that at the time, due to the pandemic, there was such a sharp rise in domestic violence that the issue was hard to ignore. Moreover, Sharir had a personal account relating to domestic violence. Her best friend from the army was a victim of domestic abuse: “I had a really good friend in a toxic and violent relationship. At the time, I didn't really know how I could help her, and I didn't even realize she was in immediate danger. That all changed when she opened up to me about how her partner had locked her in his car and sexually assaulted her.” So, when the opportunity to partake in the Safe@Home hackathon arose, it was a no-brainer for Sharir to join: “My friend’s experience rang an alarm for me in my head. It allowed me to connect the dots and start thinking of solutions.”

The idea behind Relyon, which came from her participation in the hackathon, was inspired by Michal Sela’s personal story. Sela was stabbed by her husband and bled to death. She was just a few steps away from her cell phone but obviously was in no physical state to be able to reach it. Had she had some sort of voice-activated crisis application, perhaps her outcome could have been different. That is what Sharir is hoping Relyon may accomplish: better, safer outcomes for those in need.

After the hackathon, Sharir started receiving tons of stories from people who could have benefited from such an app; people who were in various situations where they couldn't call for help through a traditional way from a phone.

Sharir speaking at a Canadian Hadassah-Wizo event

She didn't receive stories just of domestic violence victims but from a slew of different situations where such an app could be helpful. “Someone reached out about how her grandfather had tripped and couldn't reach his emergency button. Another reached out about a taxi driver who was harassing him. All these different stories made me realize that the solution we thought of could help many other populations in need, not just victims of domestic abuse.”

As of now, after several pilots, they have distributed the application with free installation in Israel and are hoping to officially launch the product in the near future. At the same time, they have a pilot taking place in Mexico and hope for a formal launch in Latin America by the end of the first quarter in 2023.

Relyon was founded in 2020 by Lee Sharir (CEO) and Lottan Horev (CTO). To date, they have raised $1 million (non-dilutive) and employ 8 people. They are headquartered in Tel Aviv.