Cosmetologists Combat Domestic Violence

Aug. 18, 2004 -- Sometimes carefully arranged hair may conceal a bruise. Maybe a woman's cell phone constantly rings with calls from a possessive boyfriend as her stylist trims her bangs. Or a woman's reluctance to change into a robe for highlights leads her to confide that she's been hurt.

Whatever the reason, cosmetologists often are on the front lines of witnessing the effects of domestic violence and glimpsing controlling relationships. In the past, salon professionals might have been able to lend a sympathetic ear, but they may not have known the correct way to steer their clients to help.

Under the "Cut It Out" program, cosmetologists are being trained how to recognize the signs of abuse and to provide domestic violence resources to those who need them.

"Hairdressers have license to touch — they become a friend, tell you everything about them, you tell them everything about you," said Vilma Colon Cobb of Salon ABC in Columbia, S.C. "We go through their divorces, the birth of their children, there's a connection there. … It's not like going to a doctor or going to a preacher. Your cosmetologist is your friend — she's equal with you."

Sponsored by the National Cosmetology Association, Clairol Professional and Southern Living at Home, Cut It Out just marked its first anniversary in 11 states. Eight more will join this fall, and the goal is to have people trained in every state by the end of 2005.

"This program is different in the sense that we make it very clear to the industry that we do not want to turn people in salons into counselors," said Gordon Miller, executive director of the National Cosmetology Association. "It's not what they're trained to be. It's not safe for them to be. It's more a community activism program and an awareness program."

In addition to the training sessions, salons display posters and distribute "safety cards" that detail resources for domestic violence help. According to the program, 17,500 posters have been distributed, as have 7,300 safety card kits, and 400 salons have asked for safety card refills.

Meeting a Need

According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 2000, on average more than three women in the United States are killed by their husbands or boyfriends each day. And those who work to combat domestic violence say people in a position to reach victims are key to providing help.

"Since salons are traditionally a place that individuals visit regularly, people often form trusting relationships with their stylist, which tends to be similar to a friendship," said Havilah L. Tower-Perkins of the Texas Council on Family Violence. "If the stylist is trained to know what abuse signs to look for, and [they] are aware of the National Domestic Violence Hotline number, they can serve as a crucial link to the victim learning about what often can be lifesaving help."

Sandi Holland, owner of Head Liners Salon in Elizabethtown, Ky., and a trainer for the program, said many stylists have told her they would have handled past situations differently had they known what to do earlier.

Sometimes clients may show physical signs of abuse, such as difficulty leaning back for a shampoo due to an injury. And sometimes people may react to new style suggestions with fear of angering their partners if they change their look.

"It's just being aware," Holland said. "Sometimes you may have a new client who will tell you a lot of things the first time. Sometimes you may have a client for a number of years who may suddenly open up. When you see someone on a regular basis, it is easier to watch for a pattern. After training, you're able to just watch and analyze. You feel more comfortable if something does come up."

A Larger Goal

People involved in the program may never know who ultimately receives information gathered at a salon. But the quick rate that the cards are taken indicates that clients are paying attention, either for themselves or others.

"This is not an instant gratification thing because you really don't know," Cobb said. She added that she can't keep the safety cards in stock "so some way or another, they're getting the information. I really do believe that we are touching more people than we even know."

Miller said educating the public is also an important goal. "We feel that just by making people aware that resources are there that we're doing [something] good," he said. "If we send out 600,000 posters and save one person's life — and we may never know — we think we're doing a very important thing."

Tower-Perkins said it is crucial for communities to not tolerate domestic abuse, and people should not blame victims for staying in violent situations.

"Abuse is more complicated than just walking out the door," she said. "The challenge we face as a society is educating everyone about abuse, that it goes beyond physical abuse, and how each of us can help to end abuse."

For help or resources on domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

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