For many women, the line between salon and therapist’s office is razor-thin. Draped under that familiar cape, sinking into the plush stylist’s chair, personal stories just have a way of spilling out.
RESPOND, Inc., the nation’s second-oldest domestic violence prevention agency, is using that dynamic for good. With a program called Cut It Out, the Somerville-based organization is training stylists to spot signs of domestic violence, and encourage those who may be suffering to get the help they need.
“Often we have very personal relationships with our stylists,” says Executive Director Jessica Brayden, adding that, many times, the salon is one of the only places a woman goes without her abuser. “Many tell their stylists information they might not tell others.”
Stylists are also in a unique position, literally, to spot physical signs of abuse, such as bruising around the head and neck, which may indicate strangulation or other serious violent acts. Cut It Out teaches hairdressers to look for these physical clues, as well as language and behavior that may suggest domestic violence. It also arms them with knowledge about resources that are available to victims, such as RESPOND’s 24/7 support hotline and shelter.
“Stylists are told to let their client know they are available to pass along the resource should they need it,” Brayden says. “They are specially trained not to interfere, or put themselves in danger.”
Last year alone, Cut It Out trained more than 200 stylists from salons all over the Boston area, a number that will continue to grow moving forward. (Many of these trainings take place during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.) And these sessions don’t only benefit clients, Brayden says.
“When I do the trainings, there are always people who wait to speak with me because they would like help or counseling for themselves,” she says. “Domestic violence is seldom spoken about and you can see the moment you have struck a chord with someone. Their eyes widen and their head starts nod. Then they sort of freeze, thinking, ‘This is me.’”
If you or someone you know needs help, you can reach RESPOND’s 24-hour crisis hotline at 617-623-5900.