Safe with Milli app enables victim-survivors to access support services on their own terms

There’s a new way for cellphones to offer a sense of protection for those who need it. File photo.

An entire safety network, from friends and family to police and counselling, may soon be as close as an app on your phone.

Female-founded Australian tech company Genvis is aiming to transform how victim-survivors stay safe with the support of service providers, in a technology pilot that will launch in the Kingston area in April 2024.

According to a news release by Genvis, the pilot provides a personal safety app to survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) and gender based violence (GBV) that allows them to interact with service providers on their own terms.The personal safety app, Safe with Milli (Milli), integrates with Genvis’s case management software, Kudo, to enable streamlined communications between case workers and victim-survivors in ways that don’t put them at further risk of harm.

“The purpose-built case management solution enables service providers to coordinate activities, data sharing and direct support to IPV and GBV victim-survivors,” Genvis noted.

Brenda Dhillon, Genvis’s representative for Canada, provides more context, saying, “In 2016 or 2018, there were a number of  pretty gruesome homicides in Western Australia, and almost all of them had happened at the hands of perpetrators who were hiding within the home of the victim.” 

At that time, Dhillon explained, Genvis CEO Kirstin Butcher was developing a “forensic video analytics tool,” mostly for use in retail, and she wondered how the facial recognition software might be used for something more important.

“The idea of Milli came to her, and she reached out to different government organizations [and] support service providers, as well as the Western Australian police,” said Dhillon.

With some collaboration and grants, Butcher developed her concept: high-risk survivors could apply for this program through their support service providers, and they would have a security camera circuit installed at their homes and a live feed on the application to alert them about people and vehicles coming to their homes.

Based on the alerts, the victim could make decisions on their own terms about whether to call police or make other arrangements, Dhillon said.

The program has been very successful in Australia, so Genvis wanted to partner with support service providers in Canada to do a pilot studying the usefulness of the service here. After all, as Dhillon put it, “IPV and GBV issues are universal.”

The Genvis news release states that a woman or girl in Canada dies as a result of IPV and GBV every 48 hours, and 44 per cent of women report experiencing some form of psychological, physical, or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Spousal violence alone costs Canada $7.4 billion per year. Underscoring the issue locally, Kingston City Council formally declared Intimate Partner Violence an epidemic in October 2023.

Dhillon shared expert opinions which emphasized the urgent need for improved data sharing, reporting, and collaboration to tackle this complex problem. Responsible agencies and service providers lack modern, fit-for-purpose tech tools to share information and collaborate with impacted women, support organizations, and government, she explained, noting that Genvis’s work is “rooted in developing software for government and public safety customers exclusively… We took elements of our Kudo product and configured it for service providers to be trialled in Ontario.”

The Milli mobile application integrates directly with Kudo, Dhillon explained, “so if you are a victim-survivor who is receiving support from a service provider, you can consent to communicate securely with your caseworker through Milli. If your support service provider is using Kudo, there is a secure inbox that’s end-to-end encrypted for you to be able to send messages and receive supports. You can upload documents for a safety plan.”

Milli also offers a number of safety services like check-in reminders to let trusted friends and providers know your safety status and location; you can also find the closest police location, according to Dhillon.

“And one of the big things we’ve developed is the ability to record incidents of harm. So you can actually log and record and collect evidence of harm as it occurs. As we know through our work in Australia and also in conversations we’ve had with organizations here in Canada, many of the victim-survivors can’t always file police reports or are not always in the situation to be able to do so, whether [because] they live in remote and rural communities or because of [other] personal circumstances,” she said.

The app allows the individual to choose to report on their time, collect evidence of harm, and send it remotely, Dhillon shared, or “to be able to access support when and if they need it. But the big thing is for support service providers to be able to communicate directly with victims and each other.”

Often, victimized individuals have multiple service providers: for example, police, child welfare workers, victim services workers, and caseworkers at shelters, Dhillon explained. As such, “Kudo can support information sharing across different organizations. For example, police can make referrals directly to Victim Services, so this is streamlining the referral process… [or] Victim Services making a referral to a shelter or a counseling service — that can all be done really quickly and easily through Kudo,” she noted.

“Our hope, with the ability for that information to be shared through Kudo, [is that] it will also help with limiting re-traumatization and re-telling of the victim’s story. They’re not being re-victimized by having to constantly share their information every single time they’re going to receive different supports,” Dhillon said.

“Through Kudo, everything is consent based, so with consent of the client you’re able to share that information.”

Feedback results from impact assessments in Australia found that 94 per cent of clients who used the Milli app were more likely to stay in their home versus using crisis accommodation services. Further, 69 per cent reported reduced anxiety and stress levels, and 100 per cent reported feeling more protected.

In a Genvis news release, CEO Butcher said, “Genvis is on a mission to transform how public safety teams keep communities safe. We’re not content to innovate tech to make it possible — we are actively driving the agenda to make it happen by investing more than $1 million to support women at risk of harm through the pilot.”

The Safe With Milli IPV and GBV pilot involves nine Ontario Victim Services locations delivering immediate crisis support to those affected by crime, natural disaster, and tragic circumstance. In Ontario, 80 per cent of the victims supported by Victim Services are affected by IPV and/or GBV. 

Service providers will guide their IPV and GBV clients to use Milli and its extensive personal safety features, incident and evidence logging, secure messaging, and consent-based data-sharing capabilities. Service provider teams will use Kudo to connect with IPV and GBV clients using Milli and will manage cases, track and share risk factors, and make timely referrals. Together, Milli and Kudo will help build a clear picture of a client’s needs, preferences, and context, in order to foster their safety.

Paula Laughlin, Executive Director of Victim Services of Kingston and Frontenac, shared in the release, “Victim Services of Kingston and Frontenac is thrilled to work with Genvis and integrate their innovative technologies into our program. This signifies a significant leap forward in our ability to provide comprehensive support to survivors of intimate partner violence. With Genvis, we’re excited to leverage cutting-edge technology to enhance accessibility and empower survivors on their journey to safety and healing.” 

According to the release, the pilot technologies are intended to enable victim-survivors to access support services on their own terms, improve coordination and collaboration between support and government agencies, foster perpetrator accountability through collecting evidence of harm, and improve data quality and sharing to give researchers an evidence base that can inform service design, delivery, and policy.

The pilot will get underway in April 2024, and there will be a roundtable information-sharing session for users at Queen’s University in May. Canadian Victim Services organizations and nonprofits serving people impacted by IPV and GBV can learn more about Milli and Kudo by emailing Genvis at [email protected].

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