Stylists learn to cut out domestic violence

Reflection Hair takes course to help victims of abuse

Original Article: August 15, 2015 | St Albert Gazette

After 20 years in business, Donia Tarrabain thought she always knew what to say. But when one client sat in her chair and talked about her partner dragging her by the hair in anger, she was at a loss.

“She used to tell me all this stuff and I was just listening but I didn't even know what to say,” she says.

Tarrabain is not a professional counsellor. She's a hairdresser, though in many ways that also makes her everyone's favourite therapist.

It's the same in hair salons around the world, she says. Clients come for a cut and free advice. They tell their stylists about their marriage problems, divorces and affairs. And when it's not about relationships, they talk about their children, vacations and jobs.

“I have heard it all, ” says Tarrabain.

Except for this kind of story. Luckily, the client had already split with her partner when she told her about the abuse, she says. But even before, Tarrabain had sensed that something was wrong.

In hindsight, she feels guilty she never said anything. But she also admits to not knowing how to help, and being afraid of getting involved.

“I don't want the guy to come in here if I do,” she says.

On Monday, her St. Albert salon, Reflection, hosted a training session for its stylists on violence prevention. The Cut it Out campaign was created to give salon professionals the information to recognize the warning signs of physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse, and safely refer clients to local resources.

That not only means noticing cuts, bruises and sore heads but also watching for hidden signs, such as clients seeming withdrawn and sick more often, acting nervous around their partners and expressing feelings of shame.

While the training does not tell the stylists to get personally involved in the situation, it teaches them to gently offer help and provide resources, such as contact numbers for organizations than can help, says Doreen Slessor, executive director of St. Albert's Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF) Society.

“It also gives the stylists a lot of empowerment knowing that you have somewhere to refer them to or to ask questions,” she says. “Now they can say, ‘if I see this woman again, I can do something.' ”

Slessor says it's not uncommon for people to feel at a loss when people confide in them about suffering from abuse. It's scary and it feels too personal, she says. SAIF is now teaching a number of businesses to recognize the signs and offer help to victims. But Reflection is the first in the city to take their training specifically created for hair salons, she says.

Because stylists are important, she says. Not only are they one of the few places victims can go to without their partners guarding them. But most people also have a trusting relationship with the person that cuts their hair.

“Of our top 10 referral sources, hair salons are up there,” she says. “They may not call the police or go to a shelter for help but they would tell their hairdressers.”

There's an inherent bond between people and their stylist, adds Tarrabain. She says its not only because they listen. But they also make people comfortable and feel good about themselves.

“We are touching their shoulders and their head and the minute we do this we got them and everything is coming out,” she says. “And now I know what to do, what to say, and where to direct them.”

Anyone looking for more information about the Cut it Out campaign can contact Cortney Lohnes, education facilitator at SAIF, at 780-460-2195 or cortney@stopabuse.ca. For more information on SAIF go to stopabuse.ca.