July 9, 2020
A new app co-developed by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Western University and the University of New Brunswick could help guide women who are experiencing intimate partner violence to a position of better health and security.
Known as myPlan Canada, the free tool offers users a personalized safety plan based on factors such as their location, their employment and family status and their proximity to their abuser. The app is intended to complement, not replace, existing health and social services.
“Very few women living in violent circumstances reach out to helplines, shelters or domestic violence programs for support,” says Colleen Varcoe, a nursing professor at UBC and a co-leader of the project. “Our hope is that this app will enable more such women to consider the options that are available to them, and to take action, if necessary, to protect themselves.”
When a user opens the app, she is first asked a few questions aimed at assessing her situation and needs. She is then taken through several activities designed to help her evaluate her priorities, how much danger she is in and how violence is affecting her health and well-being.
On the basis of this information, the app goes on to help the user develop a tailored plan for addressing these issues — suggesting research-based strategies, for example, and providing the names and contact information of online and in-person services that could give relevant assistance.
The app is an outgrowth of earlier interactive, personalized online tools aimed at promoting safety planning and women’s healing, including the myPlan app developed at Johns Hopkins University and the iCAN Plan 4 Safety tool co-developed by UBC. It is informed by years of research conducted by its creators and their partners on intimate partner violence and the impact of violence on physical and mental health.
“Removing barriers to assistance is especially urgent now, during a pandemic, when women in violent relationships have been forced to isolate themselves from others and potentially remain in close proximity to their abusers for more extended periods,” says Varcoe. “Having ready access to support could help them find safety during these particularly troubled times.”
The app is private and secure, with safeguards to prevent snooping and a quick-exit button that leads to a generic Google search page.
One out of every four Canadian women experience intimate partner violence, which often leads not only to physical injuries, but also to mental health problems like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet for a variety of reasons — fear, isolation, a controlling partner or a lack of access to available resources, among others — just one in five of these women actually connects with violence service providers or other sources of support.
The myPlan Canada app will be continually updated and improved to reflect new research findings and community collaborations. A French version is currently being developed in partnership with the University of Laval.