| Damsel in Defense
Headquarters: Boise, ID
Top Executive: Mindy Lin, CEO
Products: Self defense products and educational materials
The invisible, slow healing wounds of sexual violence and domestic abuse often shape the way a woman sees herself, her future and the world around her. But what if that tragedy could be redeemed in some way? Or prevented altogether.
Damsel in Defense CEO Mindy Lin understands how paralyzing the statistics surrounding violence against women and children can feel—from the 1 out of 4 girls that will be sexually abused as a child, to the 1 in 3 women who will experience violence at the hands of a partner.
“In the world that we live in and with the statistics what they are, it’s overwhelming to feel like you can make a difference,” Lin explains. “It feels like you turn on the news every day and it makes you question, ‘What am I doing? Am I even making a difference?”
At first glance, it would seem that the Damsel in Defense line of products is a response to those statistics, as it offers stun guns, pepper sprays and other self defense tools. But the statistics aren’t what motivates Lin and her team. It’s the one. The one woman who has survived sexual assault. The one child whose abuse could be prevented. The one brave enough to walk away from an abusive partner. She calls them starfish.
“Have you ever heard the story of the starfish?” she asks and then begins:
An old man walks down the shoreline, and he sees a little boy frantically running back and forth from the sand to the water. As the man gets closer, he sees that there are hundreds of thousands of starfish that have washed up onto the shore. And this boy is still running back and forth, back and forth. The man realizes, ‘Oh no, this kid doesn’t even realize what he’s up against.’ He walks up to him and asks ‘Young man, what are you doing?’ The little boy answers, panicked, ‘I’m throwing back the starfish that got washed up onto the shore.’
The old man sees the impossibility of this and says, ‘Young man, there are hundreds of thousands of starfish here. There is only one of you. I hate to tell you this, but you surely are not going to be able to make a difference here.’
The little boy turns back towards the thousands of starfish, picks one up, throws it back in the sea and says, ‘But I made a difference to that one.’
An Empowered Field
Alongside her husband Jimmy in the role of CFO, Lin empowers a team of Independent Damsel Pros that isn’t defined by the typical demographics used to describe direct sales field operations.
“Seventy-eight percent of my field has a story of sexual assault or domestic violence or violent trauma that has happened their lives to them or someone that they love,” shares Lin.
“We find that if your story and your trauma can give you an opportunity to go out and prevent what happened to you from happening to one person, then it was worth it,” she says. “We celebrate the starfishes we meet. One may need the mission. One may need the opportunity. One may need the protection. To give every Pro something to put into another’s hands to prevent her from being that next statistic makes a great effort worth it. They find the ability to take the pain from the past and channel it into purpose.”
Prospective Damsel Pros can join the company in one of two ways—through a low-cost, $20 starter kit with one product or a larger starter kit featuring a curated collection of products for $99. Both starter kits provide a new Pro with access to online training.
The Damsel opportunity is often more than a new business for Damsel Pros—it can be a fresh start.
If your story and your trauma can give you an opportunity to go out and prevent what happened to you from happening to one person, then it was worth it.
“We’re creating an opportunity for women to see that they have the ability to financially remove themselves from threatening circumstances,” she explains. “So, it’s not just the emotional empowerment that comes from finding this community, but also the financial empowerment to say ‘No more.’”
Protect to Prevent
Since Damsel’s launch in 2011, the product line has expanded from stun guns and pepper spray to technology-enhanced selfdefense tools and a line of educational materials for parents and children.
“The vision I’ve had for quite a while now is how do we create a defense that’s just one click away,” says Lin. “The goal has always been to create a network of products that all work together and communicate with our loved ones.”
After four years in development, Damsel in Defense launched the first product with its proprietary Shield Technology in October 2019. An enhanced version of the company’s popular Protected Pepper Spray, this new product includes a button that, when pushed, sends communication to five preselected contacts in your phone, letting them know that you’re in danger, you’ve deployed your pepper spray and alerting them to your location so that they can send help.
“Shield Technology was a long time coming,” shares Lin. “It was a lot of work with a lot of vision and dreaming that went into it. We launched it and sold out in six weeks. We’re restocking that and will be offering that (technology) in future products as we grow.”
Damsel’s self-defense tools aren’t the only way Lin and her team are serving the “one.”
“The products that we carry currently protect women that are of age to be able to carry protection,” she says. “But at eight years old, those products wouldn’t have changed my circumstances.”
A victim of childhood molestation herself, Lin saw the glaring lack of adequate prevention education for parents and their children. “My parents had the stranger danger conversations with me, but they never had the friends and family member conversation,” she recounts.
In 2015, Damsel launched the SAFE Hearts Collection—a line of children’s books, a parent guide and family board game—intended to educate families through age-appropriate “kid-versations” that offer scenarios to discuss and learn from.
There’s a gamut of subjects that are covered in a way that if parents don’t know how to navigate them, they simply have to open up the book and use the questions at the back says Lin. “The kids can answer the questions with their parents with opportunities for role-playing so that they can cement in those concepts and conversations. Since we launched the line, we’ve received so many stories of parents that have uncovered abuse and the children that have been empowered by this content and reported on potential aggressors. I wanted my story to have purpose. It’s been a very, very rewarding project.”
With over 7,500 active Damsel Pros in the field and a busy home office team of 25, Damsel in Defense continues to grow in ways of both outreach and innovation.
New products are in development with inspiration from Damsel Pros themselves. Every customer has a different environment and specific protection need, giving Lin and her in-house engineering team a broad canvas to create on.
The products that we carry currently protect women that are of age to be able to carry protection. But at eight years old, those products wouldn’t have done me any good.
“We always tell our consultants to tailor their protection to the needs of their customers,” says Lin. “For example, an airline attendant, she can’t carry pepper spray onto an aircraft. So, what can she take? She just has a carry on. So what product can you provide her? So, it really is a tailoring conversation and there’s so much creativity that comes out of that. Our best market research and ideation comes from our field. And we have an incredible engineer in house that has an innate knack for this stuff.”
Lin has goals for her team, the product line and the larger reach of Damsel in Defense, which includes The Damsel House Project, the company’s philanthropic strategy to battle sex trafficking. The project funds homes for women and girls rescued from the sex trade and to date is operating in both India and Cambodia, with more homes planned. “My longterm goal is for Damsel to have a rescue home in every country that our partners are operating in,” she says. “We currently have two homes, and I’m very driven and itchy to open our third home.”
Adhering to its mission to equip, empower and educate women and families across the country, the Damsel team moves forward, pursuing one “starfish” at a time.
“Everything we do gets passed through the lens of our mission, everything,” says Lin. “We want to continue to pass everything through that lens, diversifying our product offerings to protect more people, and make sure that no matter what product they reach for, that’s it’s capable of saving their life and sending for help. We want to continue to meet the needs of our sales force and meet customers where they’re at, doing everything in a way that we remain debt-free, privately-held and family-owned.”