The science of safety

1 in 3 Canadian women experience partner violence at some point in their lives. All violence is harmful and it’s often complex and dangerous. It can be hard for women to figure out what to do about the abuse. Safety planning is the cornerstone of intimate partner violence interventions. Ideally, it’s an individualized process that takes each woman’s unique situation into account.

Safety planning is most often accessed through violence services (e.g. helplines, shelters, domestic violence programs). Yet, the vast majority of women who have experienced abuse report never accessing these services. This can be even more challenging for women who face barriers to support. These are missed opportunities to reduce violence and its negative toll on women’s health and well-being and the quality of their lives. Help is available and safety is possible.

Backed by research

Starting in 2010, myPlan was developed and tested in a series of research studies led by Dr. Nancy Glass at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. It is the first interactive online safety decision aid for women experiencing partner violence and living in the United States. At every stage, myPlan was tested with people experiencing violence, their friends, and violence service providers. It contains the Danger Assessment, a validated risk assessment tool used for over 25 years by advocates, law enforcement, and other professionals.

In collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, and research teams in New Zealand and Australia, Canadian researchers drew on their research on the health effects of violence to create a “made in Canada” online resource for women who have experienced partner violence. Since health and safety are linked, in addition to safety, the Canadian team added a focus on women’s health and well-being. This online tool (iCAN Plan 4 Safety) was developed based on feedback from Canadian women and service providers in areas such as violence services, health care, and legal services. It was then tested with over 400 women living in British Columbia, Ontario and New Brunswick. Women used either a personalized, interactive version or a shorter, non-personalized version of the tool, completing four online surveys to track their progress and providing feedback at the study’s end.

Women who used either version of the online tool reported:

  • better mental health (fewer symptoms of depression and PTSD)
  • increased confidence in safety planning
  • stronger sense of control over their lives
  • less coercion from their abusive partners

The personalized tool was rated as more helpful and better suited to women’s needs overall. It was found to be especially helpful to women:

  • with children under 18 living at home,
  • reporting more severe violence,
  • living in medium-sized and large urban centers,
  • those not living with a partner

Learning from and using input from women in this study, myPlan Canada was created!

With input from service providers in all provinces and territories, resources from across the country have now been added. The tool is accessible via a mobile app and website and designed to assist women experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) to identify and navigate their own safe path forward. A francophone version of the app is in development with partners from Laval University in Quebec.

Meet Our Team

Dr. Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, RN, PhD, FAAN, FCAHS (Lead) is a Distinguished University Professor and Women’s Health Research Chair in Rural Health, Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, Western University. With a background in public health nursing, for the past 25 years, her research and community work have focussed on improving the health and quality of life of people affected by violence and inequities by improving services and policies. Most of her research focusses on women’s health, violence, health equity and place, particularly testing online and F2F safety and health interventions for women who have experienced partner violence.Email: mfordg@uwo.ca
Dr. Colleen Varcoe, RN, PhD, FCAHS, FCAN (Co-lead) is a professor in the University of British Columbia School of Nursing. Her work aims to decrease inequity and violence including interpersonal and structural forms of violence such as racism and poverty. Her completed research includes studies of risks and health effects of violence and how to promote health for women who experience violence, especially Indigenous women. She has studied how to promote equity-oriented healthcare (cultural safety, harm reduction, and trauma- and violence-informed care) at the organizational level and worked with various Indigenous communities, organizations and issues, including in health care and criminal justice contexts.Email: colleen.varcoe@nursing.ubc.ca

Dr. Kelly Scott-Storey, RN, PhD (Co-Lead) is a health researcher and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of New Brunswick, Director of Community Research, Scholarship and Teaching at the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre and a Research Fellow with the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Center for Family Violence Research. Her program of research is broadly in the intersection of violence, gender and health and focuses on health interventions and measurement of violence/scale development and community action.

Email: kscottst@unb.ca

myPlan Canada team members

James Case, MBI
Nancy Glass, RN, PhD, FAAN
Joanne Hammerton, MSc
Nancy Perrin, PhD
Nadine Wathen, PhD

Francophone Development Team

Geneviève Lessard, PhD
Valérie Roy, PhD
Karine Demers, Clinical Manager at Violence Info
Elisabeth Derôme, masters student 

Many thanks to research staff, students, service providers, and women who have experienced violence for giving generously of their time and expertise to help develop myPlan Canada.