The "Styling" Advocate: The Hairdresser Project of Southeastern Connecticut
In 1999, the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut introduced its Hairdresser Project to raise awareness about domestic violence and encourage people to report suspected abuse. The concept is simple: teach hairstylists to detect the signs of domestic abuse and what to do when they see them.
As one hair salon owner in the southeastern Connecticut town of New London observed, "I have seen it pass through my station. I have at times suggested the women's center. At one point, I've offered my home." (Interviewed by The Day newspaper, July 14, 1999)
Frequent Contact Yields Information
Because they may see their clients on a weekly or monthly basis, hairstylists are in a unique position to recognize women who are living in abusive situations. In addition, clients often view their hairstylists as safe, approachable, and trustworthy confidantes, so they may share personal information with them that they may not tell others. Even if a client does not disclose any personal information, stylists can watch for the signs of abuse when they see their clients for their routine weekly or monthly hair appointment.
As an information specialist and advocate at the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has seen, "[The salon is] a safe place for them to talk. That may be the only time they're allowed out to talk to other people. I've talked to so many women who were so isolated from their friends and family." (Interviewed by The Day newspaper, July 14, 1999)
Training Increases Awareness
Once the center gained the support of area hairstylists and secured a local grant, advocates trained stylists on the legal definitions of sexual abuse and domestic violence; the dynamics of abuse and its emotional, physical, and subtle signs; the steps they should take to approach a suspected victim; and finally, how to report suspected abuse. The center also used the media to raise awareness, and advocates followed up with the hairstylists they trained to get feedback on what the stylists found to be effective and what training needed to be improved. One of the most beneficial tools, said the stylists, was a card bearing nothing but the Women's Center hotline number; it is handy, useful, and, most important, discreet.
Other "Natural Helpers" To Be Tapped
The Hairdresser Project is a perfect example of the benefits programs can gain from tapping into nontraditional community resources. The idea behind the projectthat is, to involve the community in the fight against domestic violencecan be particularly relevant to rural areas, where community members such as hairstylists, store owners, or dentists and physicians may be the only individuals that victims see on a regular basis. The Hairdresser Project has been so successful, in fact, that the center plans to reach out to other "natural helpers" in the community who may be able to aid in the fight against domestic violence, such as manicurists, bartenders, and taxi drivers. Even veterinary assistants are on the listbecause studies have found a link between domestic violence and animal cruelty.