Why beauty professionals are being trained to prevent domestic abuse

Illinois stylists and esteiticians are required by law to take training to help identify clients who are grappling with domestic or sexual abuse. PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Canadian advocates are applauding a new Illinois law requiring domestic assault education training for people who want to work in the beauty industry.

Beauty professionals are being tasked with more than just a perfect cut or manicure: they’re being trained to identify clients who are suffering abuse, and have the tools to offer support.

“A person seeking licensure as a barber, cosmetologist, esthetician, hair braider, or nail technician must graduate from must include both domestic violence and sexual assault education,” the law, which went into place Jan. 1, states.

READ MORE: Canada’s family violence rates are staggering, says new report

Crystal Giesbrecht, director of research and communications for the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS) applauds the state’s move, and would like to see similar laws in Canada.

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The training is a first step, she said, not an expectation that the workers will become domestic violence experts.

“If they know how to recognize the signs and they’re familiar with the referral agencies in their local area, and they know how to offer supportive response and connect a client who is experiencing violence to services, that is going to have a large impact,” Giesbrecht said.

Salons are often a safe space where someone can go get a haircut or other service without arousing suspicion.

“Sometimes abusive partners even refuse to let the victim get medical treatment or go to a doctor’s appointment by herself,” said Giesbrecht.

“Beauty salons are in a unique position to get information out to women who are experiencing domestic violence.”

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The Cut It Out program works with salons and hairstylists to combat violence. Started in the United States, the program was brought to southwestern Ontario with funding through Western University’s Neighbours, Friends and Families program.

READ MORE: The complicated reasons people stay with their abuser

“Of all the work that I’ve done, it met with the most enthusiastic response,” said Barb MacQuarrie, community director at the Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children at Western University.

“Immediately people seemed to make the connection between the close relationship that clients have with their hairstylist or esthetician, and the way the conversations happen with a lot of ease … a place where women are often alone and able to talk.”

The program’s participants identified their unique ability to provide a helping hand to a person in need, MacQuarrie said.

“It just made so much sense. The salon professionals we encountered were really happy to have the information and they really saw a role for themselves and embraced that.”

READ MORE: Why Canada still has a long way to go in tackling domestic abuse

Arlene Morell, a salon professional for 30 years, was the program co-ordinator and trainer with Cut It Out.

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“We develop a very unique relationship with our clients and it’s based on a high level of trust, that’s very different than the relationship they have with their friends or their family, because it’s a relationship of non-judgment,” said Morell.

“It’s because of that unique relationship that often they will disclose information that they might not feel comfortable in disclosing with close family and friends.”

WATCH: Grieving B.C. mother speaks out about domestic abuse

Click to play video: 'Grieving Penticton mother speaks out about domestic abuse'
Grieving Penticton mother speaks out about domestic abuse

She said it’s often about noticing subtle changes in behaviour or mood.

“Just letting your client know you care, and that there’s community services available to them was often times the piece that would make the difference in their lives,” said Morell.

The Cut It Out program is currently on hiatus due to lack of funding. MacQuarrie said a legal requirement for such training would be a “huge boost.”

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Rural lifeline

Rural residents dealing with abuse can face greater challenges due to a lack of local resources — but even the smallest of towns is likely to have a hairstylist.

“We have so many communities where it’s a two-, three-hour drive to somewhere that might have a counselling agency or shelter. We know there’s a hairdresser in every town,” said Giesbrecht. “If [training] was mandatory … that would be huge.”

READ MORE: 73% of Canadian women and children who seek emergency shelter are turned away: survey

Giesbrecht would like to see such training in all workplaces and professions.

“Ideally there should be that minimum level of training anywhere, because we know that there are people in all professions, in all walks of life, who are experiencing violence, and in every workplace there’s going to be someone who was touched.”

Here are some resources for those in need:

Child Welfare League of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada, Family Violence Prevention Team, Centre for Health Promotion & Family Violence Initiative
Neighbours Friends & Families
Canadian Mental Health Association

If you are in immediate danger, call 911

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