London co-developed app helps abused women create safety plan

File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / diego_cervo

Western University has co-developed a new, free app to assist women in violent relationships with assessing risks and planning next steps to get to safety.

The myPlan Canada app allows users to enter their specific circumstances – such as whether they live with an abuser, have young children at home, are in a rural or urban area, or have access to a vehicle. Based on their answers, the app helps create a personalized safety plan.

“The purpose of myPlan is to give women space and time to think about their situation, to think about their options. It’s a starting place,” said Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, Canadian project lead and Western nursing professor.

The app includes options for a quick or detailed danger assessment, a safety plan, and where to find confidential services in person, online or by phone. Safeguards, including a quick-exit button that leads to a generic Google-search page, have been installed to protect users from partners snooping through their smartphones.

“There isn’t anything as interactive or personalized as this,” Ford-Gilboe said. “It’s one of the few apps that has been tested through research,” said Ford-Gilboe.

Available on both Apple and Android devices, the app isn’t intended to replace social services, police, legal and medical help currently available. Instead it is intended to augment it by giving women a chance to decide on the steps that are right for them.

According to Ford-Gilboe, data shows just one in five women experiencing intimate-partner violence will reach out to a helpline or domestic-violence program.

The app, developed in partnership with Johns Hopkins University, is also available in the United States under myPlan. Canadian research partners included nursing professors Colleen Varcoe from the University of British Columbia and Kelly Scott-Storey at the University of New Brunswick.

A francophone version is currently being developed through Université de Laval.

The app builds on an online set of tools called iCAN Plan for Safety, which was developed with tips and advice from survivors. In addition in aiding in planning an escape to safety it helps women gain insights into their health and well-being.

“We know women experiencing violence are strong and resilient – and sometimes support from the right place at the right time is something that makes an incredible difference to them. Sometimes it’s in person and sometimes it’s not. It would be my hope that this app could provide some of that knowledge or insider info,” said Ford-Gilboe.