Is love in the Hair?


“Don’t f****** come back looking like a slag” he yelled. I hurried out before he changed his mind. It was one of the few times he let me out of his sight. He only let me go because he said I was an ugly mess and embarrassed him. He knew there’d be no men there, there’d have been no possibility of going otherwise. I was allowed two hours, no more. Once, when Tina was running late, I had to run home with foils still in my hair, being late home was not an option.

Tina ran her hands through my hair and I felt close tears. I luxuriated in her gentle reassuring touch. It was one of the few times someone touched me without hurting me. I listened to the other women chat, no cares, no stress. Tina knew better than to make small talk with me. I didn’t know how to it had been so long. I was scared of giving something away. So, she would just talk and expect little back. She updated me about her week, her children, her views on new film releases. I loved to listen.

I caught my breath when some hair dye smarted my scalp. I had a cut that hadn’t quite healed. I composed myself again, but Tina noticed, I could tell by the way she looked at me. “You can tell me about it”, she said. “It’s not the first time is it?”
Domestic abuse is happening all around us and affects a quarter of all women at some point in their lives. It’s so common that we will all be in regular contact with survivors of domestic abuse, often without realizing. Hairdressers can be a pivotal part of a community response to domestic abuse, and they are in a unique position to help. Their salons are often women only environments, touching people creates a bond, and they pick up on evidence of abuse that may not be visible to others.
Many survivors live with abuse for years without telling anyone or accessing help. Survivors often have few opportunities to disclose their abuse, especially when they are under the perpetrator’s control. If an opportunity arises for them to disclose domestic abuse, it is vital they receive the right support at that point. With a minimal amount of training, community ambassadors such as hairdressers, shop assistants and yoga instructors can play an important role by asking, listening, empathizing and signposting to support agencies.
In the US state of Illinois, the unique position of hairdressers has been recognized. From January ‘20 they will all receive mandatory training in domestic abuse support. In the UK, Women’s Aid has been training people how to spot the early signs of abuse in others, and what to do if it’s suspected someone needs help. The scheme is called ‘Change that Lasts, Ask Me’ and has been running since 2017.

It’s generally recognised as good practice to ask if we suspect someone is suffering domestic abuse? There are right and wrong ways of approaching the subject, and training really helps. There are several key messages we should give. We need to show we are genuinely interested and want to help, we need to demonstrate that we won’t judge whatever the answer, and importantly, we need to know how to respond if the answer is yes.

Considering the wording of the question is important. It’s worth being aware that not all survivors of domestic abuse would label their situation as that. It’s often the case that they believe only physical abuse by an intimate partner constitutes domestic abuse. Controlling and coercive behaviour, or abuse carried out by other family members they may not think falls within the definition. It’s often good to ask quite direct questions, these questions rarely offend when the recipient knows that intentions are good. If you suspect domestic abuse to be an issue, the question might be phrased like this –
“Because I care about you, I wondered if you’ve ever been hurt or frightened by your partner or family member”.
Explaining why you’re asking is useful –
“I’ve had domestic abuse training, so I know how to help”.

Many people including health professionals don’t know what do if the answer to the question is ‘yes’. Actively listening with compassion and free from judgment is the most powerful thing you can do for a survivor. Ask further questions to clarify, express concern and demonstrate empathy. Following this, you might pass on the details for Broxtowe Women’s Project and say a little about how we provide support.

It’s also worth knowing what to avoid saying survivors. Don’t talk over them, this may be the first time the survivor has disclosed their experience so allow them to speak uninterrupted. Avoid telling them what they should do, for example that they need to leave the relationship; domestic abuse disempowers as does telling people what to do. Refrain from making judgements, for instance suggesting they should have left years ago, or that they’re wrong not to report to police.

Broxtowe Women’s Project are committed to providing training to hairdressers in the Broxtowe Borough Council area. We are being pro-active in reaching out to women who are suffering abuse. Our experience so far has only been positive, all salons we have contacted have embraced the opportunity to get involved as part of the community response to domestic abuse. By standing up to domestic abuse as a community, we can provide a more united front and help to foster an environment where abuse is no longer tolerated.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse or would like to refer someone to our service, please call us on 01773 719111.