Amy had been enduring violence from her husband for more than a year when she made the decision to leave in 2016. He had isolated the 27-year-old mother of two from her family and friends, forced her to quit her job and monitored her electronic communications by phone and computer.
Amy had tried to leave him on two prior occasions, but both times he caught her when she reached out for help. (CNBC has changed her name and some details to protect her safety.) He threatened her by saying he was tracking her whereabouts.
Then, Amy came across an organization called Operation Safe Escape when reading postings on a social media website for survivors of domestic violence. It's a charity made of up of security experts who offer technical assistance to victims of violence through local shelters and safe houses.
Amy used a secret application designed by software engineer volunteers for domestic violence victims under surveillance by their abusers. The app was made to look like the innocuous sort of smartphone download most people have on their phones, but with a hidden backdoor, where Amy could keep the important details of her escape plan.
She used the app to plan a careful exit strategy to a safe house. On the day she left, Amy followed Operation Safe Escape's guidelines, which included resetting her phone to its original factory settings and leaving it on the kitchen counter. She picked up a new prepaid phone provided by the organization, with the app installed and all her safety plan information included. This time, she was able to get out safely with her children, according to Operation Safe Escape co-founder and senior adviser Christopher Cox.