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Scissors, Comb, Domestic Violence Prevention: Coalition Wants To Add Training To Hairdresser's Tools

Maggie Mullen

For many women, getting their hair cut means going to the same stylist every six weeks for years, or even decades. In an effort to take advantage of those enduring ties, the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is training beauticians to recognize the signs of abuse and how to help. Getting the program off the ground, however, has been slow going.

The Cut It Out training is a national program designed to teach cosmetologists to recognize signs of abuse and dynamics of domestic violence, and to respond in a way that is healthy and supportive. 

Katie Hughes,  the rural program capacity specialist at the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, has been leading trainings via webinars. It boils down to two categories—the signs of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and resources hairdressers can share with clients.

Before a recent webinar, Hughes, hoping to reach people in the far corners of Wyoming, waited for participants to call in. But only two did, including myself.

"I feel like the fewer people almost the better when we’re talking about domestic violence and sexual assault," said Hughes. "So I’m totally up for giving a training just for the three of us today, if you guys are both interested."

We agreed to continue with the training, and for the next 90 minutes. Hughes led us in a discussion on the unique position stylists hold because of their close physical contact with clients on a regular basis.

"Beauty professionals really do have the ability to see changes in survivors, and then to really be able to say, ‘hey, I’m worried about you. Do you need help? Is there something I could do or offer you that would support you in being safe?’" said Hughes.

The webinar’s low turnout was at odds with the reaction the program’s announcement got on Facebook—more than 140 people liked the coalition’s post.

But the one hairdresser who participated in the webinar with Hughes was eager to learn. Her name is Paige Elliott, and she works at Visions Salon in downtown Laramie. Elliott has been a hairdresser for eight years, with a steady and loyal customer base of women, including Katie Hughes, the woman who led the training.

In fact, Elliott is one of the reasons the coalition is bringing the Cut It Out program to the state. During one haircut, Elliott asked Hughes how the coalition could make the training available to her and other beauticians. Elliott said, "then Katie just kind of took off with it."

But getting other hairdressers to participate in the training has been nearly impossible.

"Nobody’s directly told me 'No.' They’re like 'oh, that sounds good, I want to do that, I want to be involved,' but then when it comes time to show up for the training, they’re not there," said Elliott.

And, Elliott said, she has seen a lot of negative comments in some of the online hairdresser groups she follows.

"They don’t feel like this is part of their job, they don’t get paid enough," said Elliot. "They don’t want to be involved, they don’t want to put themselves in danger."

That’s similar to how Elliott said she once saw things.

"I had a client that had sent me an article maybe two years about this training," said Elliott, "and a lot of those things were the first things that I thought."

After some discussions, Elliott changed her mind.

"Hearing more about it, reading more about it, talking to Katie about it.  I’m like ‘this is our jobs, just as human beings,’ and just the fact that it’s important to me that they’re safe," said Elliott. "It’s not about being a counselor, it’s not about being a domestic violence professional. It’s just about if somebody needs help, maybe we can point them in the right direction."

The coalition’s Katie Hughes said there have been other barriers. When she called salons to offer the training, some of them hung up on her.

"I think people thought I might have been a telemarketer," said Hughes. "Sometimes I think it’s just because the coalition’s name is really long."

Hughes said those people might not be familiar with the coalition, so they might not understand why she was calling. If they didn’t hang up, Hughes would tell them the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is a non-profit organization working to end violence.

But maybe the biggest hurdle, Hughes said, is the stigma around domestic violence and sexual assault.

"Traditionally domestic violence has been seen as a private family matter that could be taken care of silently within the family itself," said Hughes.

Shifting that view will be difficult, said Hughes, but not impossible. She is pushing forward with the program, and the coalition will continue to put on the trainings, even if only one hairdresser signs up. 

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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