Helping Abuse Victims Where They’re Most Comfortable

by Cara on November 25, 2008

in activism, feminism, violence against women and girls

The NY Times has a really interesting article about innovative anti-domestic violence programs that meet women abuse victims where they are:

The privileged, often therapeutic relationship between hairdressers and clients has long been the subject of magazine articles and movies. A growing movement in New York and across the nation tries to harness that bond to identify and prevent domestic violence, a pervasive problem that victims are often too ashamed to reveal to law enforcement or other public officials.

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.

[ . . .]

Kathy Ryan, chief of the Domestic Violence Unit of the New York Police Department, said that battered women were such a hard population to reach that “preventing even one death should be considered success.”

The police have tried doing outreach to victims by, among other things, setting up domestic violence-education tables at community events, only to find that no one wants to be seen near them. But the atmosphere is different in the safety of a beauty salon.

It may sound really stereotypical and obnoxious to our feminist sensibilities, the idea that beauty salons are the place to find and talk to women, but the fact is that the programs are reaching women who likely would not have otherwise been reached, and providing them with an important system of trained support.

Other writers like Brownfemipower have blogged about how the feminist movement tends to use college campuses as recruitment grounds rather than places like churches, day care centers, community centers, etc. and it’s not the way to go.  I think that the same can also be extended to several of the feminist movement’s specific causes, like domestic violence.  There are all kinds of women (and men) doing radical work in this area, as the article above points out, but I don’t think that we have jumped on board and helped the idea to catch on nearly as much as we need to.

We might be most comfortable on college campuses, at shelters and hotlines, and setting up tables at health fairs.  But it doesn’t matter what we’re most comfortable with if the people we’re trying to reach aren’t comfortable.  And not all of them are.

There is no one approach to helping women who are the victims of domestic violence.  Ceratinly, all women aren’t going to be helped at hair salons any more than all women are going to be helped with a hotline number.  But some will be helped by both.  Some will be helped in churches, some will be helped in day care centers; women will be helped everywhere, if we’ll let them be.  The point is finding where different women are most comfortable, most open, and helping them there, in all of those places.  Or we’re just simply going to keep leaving a lot of women behind.

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{ 9 comments }

1 Jay November 25, 2008 at 12:27 pm

I think this is a great idea. In the 15 years since I cut my hair and started having regular visits to the hairdresser, I’ve developed a deep respect for her relationship skills and her ties to the community (yeah, the same woman is still cutting my hair). She would be a wonderful resource.

2 Lemur November 25, 2008 at 2:49 pm

It does sound a little bit 70′s-movie, but you know what? If it works, it’s worth doing. And you’re right that it’s not about us being comfortable, it’s about helping the people who need it.

3 Jesse November 25, 2008 at 3:03 pm

This idea just makes sense. I think as feminists we tend to forget that domestic violence happens in all economic backgrounds. While some battered women are kept from spending money on themselves other battered women have the perpetrator insist on a high standard of beauty. A salon is the perfect place to set up these types of programs. And salons are places where the perpetrator is unlikely to visit. At a booth at a fair, or calling a hot line there is always always a chance that someone will see, someone will overhear and that will get back to the abuser. Salons already have a reputation that it’s a place of chitchat. The mentality is that what is said at a salon is just unimportant talk–no one thinks twice. Using that stereotype to create a safe place for important conversation just makes sense.

4 Renee November 25, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Anything that helps women I am in favor of. I do agree that it is important to take note of the fact that feminism seems to want to live in academia. While it is a great place to engage young women it also means that it is only attracting women of a certain age and class background. In truth anywhere that women gather can be turned into a space to raise consciousness. We are all in this together.

5 Rj November 29, 2008 at 9:40 am

I am excited by such a creative angle. As a d.v. victim, I would have never gone to a booth or anything massively public. It is hard enough picking up brochures in the comfort of your own doctor’s office. And I have no trust for the police or mental health agencies.

6 Melia November 30, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Sometimes we have to leave our own comfort zones to reach out to others. Its a simply brilliant resource that will help so many others.

7 Donna December 1, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I am happy to learn of this brilliant idea.
As a Cosmetologist/Hairstylist, of 34 years, I can testify to the validity of the comfortable client to hairstylist relationship. It’s been my personal experience that women feel comfortable enough to open up and share their intimate problems, and even ask for my recommendation’s. I would love to know if there is this sort of education in the California area.
Thank you for sharing,
Donna

8 KaeLyn December 5, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Rochester did a Cut It Out event for the first time last year. It was really excellent.

9 graham December 20, 2008 at 10:34 pm

This is a fabulous idea, I wonder why someone didn’t think of this sooner.

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