Study: Online tool help combat partner violence

Canadian women experiencing intimate partner violence benefited from the use of a personalized digital lifeline linking them to information, supports and help, according to a new study into the use of the online tool co-developed by a Western researcher.

“There has been tremendous growth in online information and apps for women experiencing partner violence. But most are not based on evidence nor have they been tested for safety and impacts for women,” Nursing professor Marilyn Ford-Gilboe explained. “Our promising findings address this gap with a made-in-Canada solution that women find helpful and safe to use, and that has benefits for specific groups of women.”

iCAN Plan 4 Safety (iCAN) is the first interactive, online health and safety resource for Canadian women experiencing intimate partner violence.

Developed using the latest research around intimate partner violence and vetted by experts, iCAN helps users weigh the risks in their relationship and set personal priorities. The tool then offers personalized suggestions to deal with their safety, health and other concerns, as well as provides contact information for services that can help.

Ford-Gilboe, who serves as Western’s Women’s Health Research Chair in Rural Health, worked with researchers from Western, University of British Columbia and University of New Brunswick on the project.

For the study, researchers recruited a group of 462 women from Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick who were experiencing partner violence. Some participants were provided the personalized version of iCAN; others used a shorter, less personalized version of the tool.

According to the yearlong study, women in both groups reported improvements in mental health, confidence in safety planning, and decreased coercion from their abusive partners.

Women in both groups also noted that the online intervention provided time and space to consider their risks, options and priorities and strengthened their confidence, control and commitment (aspects of positive mental health) to address the violence in ways that were best for them, the study stated.

The more personalized version of the tool, however, provided additionally beneficial to those participants parenting children under 18, experiencing more severe abuse, not living with an abusive partner, or living in medium and large urban settings.

The study, Longitudinal impacts of an online safety and health intervention for women experiencing intimate partner violence: randomized controlled trial, was published today in the journal BMC Public Health.

While excited about the findings, Ford-Gilboe stressed that online interventions, such as iCAN, are not meant to replace existing services. They can, however, complement and extend those services.

Researchers hope to make iCAN publicly available in the near future.

Affecting 1-in-3 Canadian women, intimate partner violence has been linked to increased risk of injury, physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.