Helping Those in Domestic Danger Find an Escape

Lockdowns have made the situation worse for many victims of domestic abuse. This app aids in crafting a personalized plan of action.


Unfortunately, not everyone is safer at home during lockdown.

For people experiencing partner violence, the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled by sudden and nearly complete isolation at home are a dangerous combination. Lockdowns are a known factor in increasing domestic abuse, but so far, there has been no surge in related court cases or shelter use in Ontario.

That points to the disturbing reality that there are likely even fewer points of escape during the pandemic. There are fewer opportunities for victims to place calls for help without being overheard, and common options like moving with the kids to live with your elderly parents or in a congregate living environment are fraught with new risk.

myPlan Canada is an app or web-based tool designed to help women experiencing partner violence access local resources. The interactive tool helps them enter details on their specific circumstances and get a personalized plan with options to help protect their health and safety.

The first version of myPlan was launched in 2010 in the United States by Nancy Glass at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, and the Canadian version was developed at Western University; it contains location-specific resources for every Canadian province and territory.

“The purpose of myPlan is to give women space and time to think about their situation, to think about their options. It’s a starting place,” said project lead Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, professor of nursing at Western, in a press release.

“There isn’t anything as interactive or personalized as this. It’s one of the few apps that has been tested through research.”

Every person’s circumstances are different, and myPlan helps develop a unique plan of action. It contains the Danger Assessment, a validated risk assessment tool created through case studies of the risk factors associated with homicides in domestic violence cases. For instance, users might answer whether they live with their abuser, have young children at home, have been threatened with a weapon, or have access to income or to a vehicle.

Beyond escape plans, the Canadian version of the app also includes resources for general health and well-being. Hundreds of Canadian survivors of domestic abuse helped in every stage of the app’s development, as well as experts in violence services, health care, and legal services. The app also has features for added safety, like a prominent quick-exit button that lets users navigate to a generic Google search page at a moment’s notice, and other tips for how to use the app as securely as possible.

myPlan Canada users report improved mental health symptoms, higher levels of confidence in safety planning, a greater sense of control, and reduced coercion by their abusers.

“We know women experiencing violence are strong and resilient – and sometimes support from the right place at the right time is something that makes an incredible difference to them,” adds Ford-Gilboe. “Sometimes it’s in person and sometimes it’s not. It would be my hope that this app could provide some of that knowledge or insider info.”

Are you experiencing domestic abuse and need help right now?

For emergency assistance, call 911. To connect to local resources, contact your province’s domestic violence helpline.

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Karyn Ho is a science animator and engineer who thrives at the interface between science, engineering, medicine, and art. She earned her MScBMC (biomedical communications) and PhD (chemical engineering and biomedical engineering) at the University of Toronto. Karyn is passionate about using cutting edge discoveries to create dynamic stories as a way of supporting innovation, collaboration, education, and informed decision making. By translating knowledge into narratives, her vision is to captivate people, spark their curiosity, and motivate them to share what they learned.