Western researchers will be leading the way in developing the first free, Canada-wide app to help survivors of domestic violence find a path to safety and health.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) announced this month it will invest more than $100,000 to develop a bilingual, mobile app that will provide information to support survivors of intimate partner violence and those at risk.
“This will be the first evidence-based app designed by Canadians, for Canadian survivors and service providers,” said professor Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, Women’s Health Research Chair in Rural Health in Western’s Labatt Family School of Nursing. “We want anyone who is experiencing violence in a relationship to see that there is something in this app for them.”
The app – expected to be launched by June 2022 – will draw on two earlier apps (a web app and a mobile app) developed by Ford-Gilboe and her colleagues, part of previous research examining how virtual spaces and digital information could offer support to those experiencing relationship violence.
The web app aimed to increase users’ sense of safety and their awareness of safety measures, improve mental health and confidence, and enhance their control over choices and next steps.
“We had good evidence from that trial that we were onto something,” Ford-Gilboe said.
Safety, health, shelter
This new app under development will cover an even broader scope of issues.
“Safety is one of the concerns women face but it’s not the only concern. Others include health, children, finances, living situation. This app is going to pull in these broader dimensions… and identify where women can find help,” Ford-Gilboe said.
“We hope it will be a resource women can come to in crisis and also use as an ongoing resource as they need it. It’s where they’ll find basic information in one place about housing, health, childcare, food, clothing and rest and energy. It’s a tool in the toolbox alongside local services.”
Among its features, for example, is a risk assessment, which provides immediate feedback to the app’s primary users about their level of personal safety and, if they choose to share it, can provide valuable insight for service providers,such as women abuse centres, medical professionals and police.
“Family violence and intimate partner violence are often hidden from public view, making it harder to prevent or stop it. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this risk because of the combination of increased stress to families and because services are more difficult to access,” said MP Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health.
“We congratulate Western University on creating this free mobile app which will facilitate safe access to local services for those experiencing family violence,” Bennett said.
The PHAC funding is part of its Preventing and Addressing Family Violence: the Health Perspective investment.
The federal funding will support the app’s development and will be hosted on a Canadian server. It includes support and maintenance for three years.
Canada211, a nationwide service funded through United Way agencies, will help with information management by making sure available local contact information is up-to-date: a task that otherwise would have been herculean, Ford-Gilboe said.
Western is steering the project, which is also co-led by nursing professors Colleen Varcoe at the University of British Columbia and Kelly Scott-Storey of the University of New Brunswick.
This is an example, Ford-Gilboe said, of leveraging research for the public good.
She credited WORLDiscoveries, which helps commercialize innovation at Western, with offering valuable advice and resources to help shift this from a research tool into a public resource. “This must always be, and will always be, free to women and other users, so even though there is no potential for revenue, WORLDiscoveries has provided valuable support,” she said.
The previous mobile iteration of the app, used to develop research about what works best, has been taken offline and will be replaced with the revamped, yet-to-be-named app.
If you are experiencing violence in a relationship or feel yourself at risk of violence:
- In an emergency, call 9-1-1.
- In London, Anova offers counselling and various other support such as emergency shelter and second-stage housing. Atlohsa Family Support Centre provides support for Indigenous women and families. The London Abused Women’s Centre provides community-based programming and counselling.
- Nationally, Canadians can find a suite of family-violence resources and services at this link.