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MU team developing iPhone app to combat partner abuse

Monday, October 1, 2012 | 6:14 p.m. CDT; updated 7:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 1, 2012
A screenshot is shown from the danger assessment portion of the One Love app that helps women determine whether they are in an abusive relationship and provides them with resources for staying safe.

COLUMBIA — MU researchers are working to create an iPhone app that they hope could save the lives of women in abusive relationships.   

Tina Bloom, who teaches in MU's Sinclair School of Nursing, is working alongside students and faculty to create the app, which will help users determine if they are in an abusive relationship and if so, suggest a safety plan specific to their level of risk.  

Local Domestic Violence Resources

Family Counseling Center of Missouri: 443-2204, www.fccmo.org

The L.E.A.D. Institute: 445-5005, Hotline/crisis: 888-761-4357800-380-3323

True North Shelter: 875-1370, 800-548-2480


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As part of the app, the researchers have developed a Danger Assessment quiz that is available for use now. Bloom expects a demonstration model of the full app to be tested in the spring. It will be subjected to a series of tests by a participant group.

The app is funded by the One Love Foundation, created after the Yeardley Love tragedy in 2010, combining the victim's name with her lacrosse jersey number. Love was killed by her boyfriend during her senior year at the University of Virginia.  

Research shows that 33 percent of female homicide victims die at the hands of an intimate partner. One-third of women in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced violence from an intimate partner, making college-age women at highest risk for being in an abusive relationship.

In 2011, the National Domestic Violence Crisis hotline, received more than 265,000 calls for help, said Angela Hale, a hotline spokesperson. 

Hale says that 57 percent of dating college-age women who have reported violence find it difficult to identify signs of abuse.  

"You only know what you've been exposed to," Hale said. "It takes somebody to step up and break the cycle."

Bloom agrees that some kinds of abuse are harder to identify than others. "Power, control, sexual coercion are much harder to understand as abuse," she said. 

The app addresses that challenge by helping college-age women recognize that abuse comes in many forms and that all of them can be a threat to their safety. It also connects them to life-saving resources on and off campus without sacrificing their privacy. Bloom's team is discussing how to disguise the app from violent partners.

Because the majority of abused victims are women, a version has not yet been created for men, despite the increase in domestic violence arrests of women.  

Here's how the app works:

  • First, the user is prompted to answer general questions about her relationship, such as the sex of her partner, which then leads to a set of preliminary questions to determine if her relationship is unhealthy. 
  • The user then completes a danger assessment, which uses a specific set of research-based, weighted questions to determine how dangerous her relationship is.  

"We know what predicts serious injury and death," Bloom said. For example, if a woman answers "yes" to "Does your partner own a gun?," the danger score is boosted significantly. Bloom said a woman is more than four times more likely to be killed if her partner owns a gun. 

  • Guided by additional prompts, the user will assess her priorities, then be given advice for how to handle situations specific to her lifestyle and be connected to resources for nearby shelters, legal representation, counseling and hotline services.  

Friends and family of abused survivors — who in many cases do not know what to do to help someone in an abusive relationship — can also use the app.  They will complete a similar set of questions and learn what resources are available on campus and locally, such as Columbia's women's shelter, True North, which received 1,280 calls in 2011, according executive director Barbara Hodges. 

Bloom is working with Nancy Glass from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Karen Eden at Oregon Health and Science University, Nancy Perrin at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore., and Jill Messing at Arizona State University. Her team is working with 27 participants in the four states where the app developers are based to determine the functionality of the app.

The participants include college staff and students, both men and women, who have either survived abusive relationships or who know someone in an abusive relationship. Bloom said she couldn't say yet if there will be a charge for the app.  

Danica Wolf, the coordinator of MU's Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center (RSVP), said she sees value in the app.

"I think (it) has the potential to be a great, effective tool for folks who are looking for answers and/or a private way to figure out what could be going on in their relationship," Wolf said in an email.  

While Bloom's team is working on how to market the app, Wolf thinks one of the best strategies will be to focus on bystander intervention.

"Having someone download the app in case a friend needs your help and support can be one of the best ways to ensure that no matter what, it is on the radar of someone who is being abused or someone around them," Wolf said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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