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Decade-long research project results in app to help women escape domestic abuse

FILE - In this April 8, 2019, file photo, a woman browses her smartphone in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File).
FILE - In this April 8, 2019, file photo, a woman browses her smartphone in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File).

A joint project involving input from experts in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand has resulted in an app described as “the first interactive safety decision aid.”

The myPlan Canada website says the free app can “help you with your safety and well-being if you have experienced abuse from current or past spouse, partner, boy/girlfriend” and that it is “private, secure, personalized, and backed by research.”

Read more: Elana Fric was killed after filing for divorce. How do we make leaving less dangerous?

Development began in 2010 out of John Hopkins University School of Nursing in the United States, led by Dr. Nancy Glass. Marilyn Ford-Gilboe — a nursing professor at Western University in London, Ont. — is the Canadian project lead. The Canadian partnership also involves input out of the University of British Columbia and the University of New Brunswick.

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“It’s really a result of many years of working in this area and understanding that partner violence has big long-term consequences for women, not just in terms of their safety, but in terms of their health and even the welfare of their children,” Ford-Gilboe told Devon Peacock in an appearance on The Morning Show on Global News Radio 980 CFPL.

“The app is an approach to just thinking about whether there are ways of reaching women that we haven’t always drawn on. And because technology advanced so much, it’s actually possible to create these types of resources that are safe for women and that are quite effective.”

According to Western University, users can input their specific circumstances and the app will then walk the user through a personalized plan to protect their safety and health. Those “specific circumstances” include details like whether they are in immediate danger, live with the abuser, have young children at home, have a job, are in a rural or urban area, and whether or not they have access to a vehicle.

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“If, for example, the woman says that she has children, she will receive some information that is about how to help her children to be safer as well and how to access services for them. But only women who say they have children will get that. So when I say it’s personalized, that’s what I mean. She’s getting information that’s relevant for her without having to sift through a lot of things that actually don’t matter in her life,” said Ford-Gilboe.

Read more: Broken: A Global News series on Canada’s ongoing failure to end violence against women

She also stressed that safety was the top priority in developing the app.

“Some of those include things like quick escapes, the ability to hide or delete the app, and some other features. And it also includes a lot of information for women with tips about how they can actually be safer online and on their mobile devices, as well as in other aspects of their life.”

The free app is available for Apple and android devices. There is also a web version. You can find it here.

Ford-Gilboe says one of the next pieces of research will involve services using the app with women, like police or health care.

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