Online tool puts power back in women’s hands

Paul Mayne // Western News

Western Nursing professor Marilyn Ford-Gilboe is heading up the Ontario portion of a national iCAN Plan 4 Safety study, which seeks to assist women affected by relationship violence who may be more willing, or able, to seek information or support via the web.

Western Nursing professor Marilyn Ford-Gilboe is heading up the Ontario portion of a national iCAN Plan 4 Safety study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The project seeks to assist women affected by relationship violence who may be more willing, or able, to seek information or support via the web.

A woman is eligible to participate in this study if she:

·      Is experiencing current abuse from a partner or ex-partner;

·      Lives in Ontario, British Columbia or New Brunswick;

·      Has access to a safe computer and Internet and is comfortable using them;

·      Is 19 years of age or older; and

·      Speaks English.

Women who may be interested in participating in the study can call the study line at 1-844-264-iCAN or visit the study homepage at icanplan4safety.ca.

While services for women experiencing violence are critical community resources, fewer than one-in-five Canadian women who experience partner violence actually access these services. But a new online project, led by Western Nursing professor Mary Ford-Gilboe, looks to change that.

“Lots of women who experience violence from a partner don’t actually ever go out and seek help from a community service,” Ford-Gilboe said. “It’s about working through a process for these women. There are different points in time when they are ready to go.”

Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, iCAN Plan 4 Safety is a personalized, safety decision aid which women access securely and confidentially from a computer or tablet. As principal investigator, Ford-Gilboe is joining researchers the University of British Columbia and University of New Brunswick to develop the first online safety planning tool for Canadian women who are experiencing abuse from a current or ex-partner.

In the tool, women complete questions and activities to help them identify their priorities and safety risks. This information is then used to create a tailored ‘action plan’ which is unique to each woman’s priorities, preferences and living situation. This plan includes contact information for existing services or resources that may be helpful.

The plan can be accessed online via icanplan4safety.ca and updated as personal situations change.

“An online type of presence can be kind of a stepping stone. For some women, this type of information they may find on their own, but would take a lot of time and effort, which they sometime don’t have. This may be all they need,” said Ford-Gilboe, Women’s Health Research Chair in Rural Health in the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing. “For others, what it can do, is open up a whole range of possibilities they didn’t think about. Depending upon how they answer, and how they work through the interactive exercise, they are given a personal action plan specifically tailored for them.”

iCAN Plan 4 Safety was not developed as a replacement for shelters or other counseling and support services, but as another option for women who may never access these services or to help them find a local service that fits with their needs.

The research group consulted with experts from sectors including women’s shelters, victims’ services, police, legal, community-based violence against women services, mental health and health care to ensure the information is accurate and appropriate for diverse groups of Canadian women.

“We have a particular focus not only on women’s safety, but also on their mental health. We see those things are very interconnected,” Ford-Gilboe said. “The main thing we are testing is if this tool reduces some of the difficulties women have in making a decision about what do to. Violence has huge safety and mental health consequences for women, and hopefully by working through this type of activity, it gives women more control and access to resources.”

Researchers will follow up with participants at three-, six- and 12-month intervals during the project to monitor any changes. But ultimately, the project is about letting women take control back on their own terms.

“We are getting to the point where some of the stigmas around the issue of violence against women have decreased. But we know it is still a hard process for women,” Ford-Gilboe said. “I think tools like this put the power back in the woman’s hands. If this online tool is effective, it might be a lifeline to women who are not connected to help and may be suffering in silence.”