Being stuck in an abusive relationship is emotionally destructive, physically dangerous, but often highly complex. Abused women, and also abused men, most often suffer in silence. If they leave, they fear they will lose the lives they have built, their homes, the lives they have made for their children, even access to their children. In their confusion, they may often decide the devil they know may be better than the one they don’t. So, they may decide, it is better to be quiet, to struggle, to endure.
Occasionally, however, they emerge from behind that internal wall of fear or needless shame to speak to someone. It could be anyone offering an ear to listen – a friend, dental hygienist, teacher, or hairdresser. If that person knows that help is available and where to find it – “Why don’t you call this number ...” – the door could be cracked wide enough to begin to break the vicious cycle of physical, emotional, sexual, or even spiritual abuse.
St. Albert hairdresser Donia Tarrabain recently took part in the Cut It Out campaign in which she, and other stylists at Reflection, learned how to make informed suggestions to clients who reached out to them. Tarrabain told Gazette reporter Viola Pruss that in the past when clients would mention abuse, she never knew what to say, or where they could receive help, or sometimes she just didn’t want to get involved. The topic seemed too personal. With the training, now she knows she might be able to make a difference.
Doreen Slessor, executive director of St. Albert’s Stop Abuse in Families Society (SAIF), says abused women might not go directly to police or flee to a shelter, but they will open up to their stylists. In fact, stylists already number among the top referral sources to the organization that provides 60 hours of counselling to abused people every week. Domestic abuse is a St. Albert problem, just like it is a problem in all communities. The society receives about four new clients each week, adding up to nearly 200 new clients every year. The organization sees about 500 steady clients with about half of those from our city.
When it comes to domestic abuse it is all too easy for most of us to look the other way. Nobody wants to get too close to the screaming or violence. Nobody wants a women’s shelter to move in next door for fear of the bullying maniacs it may attract. That is why the location of shelters is kept secret and why they are often built like small fortresses. And the truth of the matter may be that only a small number of abused partners would seek such shelter within this community. SAIF, along with other organizations working to combat spousal abuse, support the idea of starting a special home in rural Sturgeon County, where those in real fear of violence can go when they leave. This type of helping, secure home, based on Sparrow’s Hope in the Westlock region, would be staffed by people who know how to deal with symptoms such as post traumatic stress disorder, but also meet all of the physical needs, such as providing clothing and toothbrushes to partners and children forced to flee in a hurry. Certainly our community and governments should do everything in their power to ensure this is done.
But before some of these abused people can take their first steps to a better life, they also need that little bit of help from someone willing to listen. Someone like a hairdresser.