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JFS { Hope Helps Hairdressers Recognize Domestic Violence

About 50 students in Santa Monica City College’s (SMC) cosmetology program are gathered in a campus classroom. Some are hair stylists in training, others are future aestheticians or manicurists. But they’re not here to learn about color trends or the latest skincare innovations. They’re here to learn about domestic violence through a training program led by two professionals from JFS { Hope, part of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.

In July 2018, AB 326 went into effect in California. The law requires that students in hair and beauty schools, like those at SMC, take courses in domestic violence awareness as part of their licensing process. JFS { Hope, which operates two 24-7 crisis hotlines for victims of intimate partner violence, two crisis shelters and offers free counseling in English and Spanish, immediately came on board. However, the curriculum JFS { Hope uses for these trainings is not its own. It uses the Professional Beauty Association Foundation’s Cut It Out program. But their goals are the same: recognize, respond and refer.

“How do you recognize domestic violence when you see it?” began JFS { Hope’s Kitty Glass, who co-led a recent training with colleague Gabrielle Hassan. “How do you respond and what do you do? You all are in a really unique situation because of the kind of relationship you’re going to establish with your client. It’s a very safe relationship. … So you may hear things or you may see signs. We want you to feel equipped to offer support. We don’t expect you to be a therapist. We just want to heighten your awareness of intimate partner abuse.”

The majority of the presentation was spent looking at intimate partner abuse, which generally affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men.

“It crosses all socio-economic barriers,” Glass said. “Ethnicity makes no difference. Sometimes we do see in some cultures a more patriarchal type of relationship. But anybody can be a victim.”

When a client comes into the salon and, let’s just say, they are having their hair done, having their nails done, having a facial, we touch. …  We are relaxing our clients … that’s when they start talking and we see a lot of things that go on.” — Helen LeDonne

Glass and Hassan also spent significant time discussing some of the many reasons victims often can’t or don’t simply walk away, including real or perceived pressure from various religious communities.

“Women are leaving five to seven times before leaving for good,” Hassan said. “There is a lot of burnout in family members” who tire of watching their loved ones return to an abusive partner, she added. Consequently, “[victims] become very isolated from their families. So many times I have heard, ‘I didn’t know where to go for help.’ ” This is where the future beauty professionals come in to the picture.”

A beauty professional might suspect abuse. Maybe their client has bruising or clumps of hair missing. Maybe it’s clear they aren’t taking care of their hygiene like they used to. All of these could be indications of abuse, according to the training. But Hassan warned, “Don’t assume.” 

The instructors also underscored the importance of not pushing individuals who may not be receptive to, or ready for, offers to help. “The main thing is that you’re available, that you’re a good listener,” Glass said. “If you hear something, you can certainly ask if she would like some support.” 

All participants were provided the National Domestic Violence Hotline number ([800] 799-7233) as well as the two 24-7 crisis hotline numbers for JFS { Hope ([818] 505-0900 and [323] 681-2626) to share. 

Helen LeDonne, a longtime hairdresser who teaches a handful of cosmetology classes at the school, said the mandate “[is] going to create a lot of awareness out there. When a client comes into the salon and, let’s just say they are having their hair done, having their nails done, having a facial, we touch. …  We are relaxing our clients. … When a client is relaxed, that’s when they start talking and we see a lot of things that go on. We hear a lot. They tell us so much more than they would a girlfriend or a relative.”

She added, “As a cosmetologist, we have so much power in our hands to help people, to make them feel good and help their self-esteem. Cut It Out is an extension of that.”

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