Hair salons are not exactly synonymous with feminist activism. But in cities like New York and Chicago, law enforcement officials and activists are working with hairstylists to recognize signs of domestic abuse in their clients and help them get the assistance they need.
Martha Castillo knew her client had a problem because their weekly hair-straightening sessions were always interrupted by phone calls from a boyfriend angrily accusing her of being with another man. Magda Florentino noticed cigarette burns on a woman’s temples when she pulled back her hair for washing – and did not buy the explanation that they had happened accidentally while she was bartending.
And Candida Vasquez received a hysterical call from a customer soon after she had spent three hours knitting extensions into the woman’s hair. Her boyfriend hated the look, and in a fit of rage he had cut off not only the extensions, but also the rest of her hair.
Ms. Vasquez said she was not surprised by the call. Troubled clients tell her their personal stories all the time. “They are so tormented, they just come in and share,” she said.
Ms. Vasquez, Ms. Castillo and Ms. Florentino are all stylists in Manhattan who have been trained (or are being trained) as part of a one-year-old program by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services in beauty salons in the Washington Heights area, where many cases of domestic abuse and neglect include violence that is not necessarily aimed at children.
The initiative joins similar efforts that have been sprouting across the nation; perhaps the best known, called Cut It Out and based in Chicago, has trained 40,000 salon workers in all 50 states to recognize signs of domestic abuse. In the past few months, the Cut It Out program was also adopted by the Empire Education Group, which has 87 cosmetology schools, and endorsed by the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, the trade organization representing another 800 schools.
Nearly 600,000 women and girls and 144,000 men and boys nationwide were victims of violence by an intimate partner in 2006, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. In New York last year, the police received hundreds of domestic disturbance calls every day and recorded about 55,000 crimes connected to domestic violence.
This is a great, innovative way to help inform domestic violence survivors of their options in a trusted, often women-only setting. As acting U.S. attorney Laurie Magid says in the article, “The salon may be one of the few places women might be without their abuser around. … This program really addresses a need. You don’t have a case unless you have a crime reported in the first place and that is the difficult area of domestic violence.”
Here’s hoping this program will help the women who need it the most.