A campaign is encouraging hairstylists to recognize signs their clients may be experiencing domestic abuse.

Organizers of the program, Cut it Out: Salons Against Domestic Abuse, say hairstylists are in a position of trust.

Michele Berry has been in the hairstyling business for 30 years and also teaches the trade at St Clair College.

"There's a lot of confidentiality, a lot of bonding," she said, describing the relationship between a hairstylist and their client.

When a client sits in her chair she knows they are trusting her with more than just hair.

"They'll share things with us that they may not share with their family members," she said. "Being the front line, we may see things that family members may not see."

Berry herself has seen those signs.

"I saw hair loss. I saw bruising," she said.

When she heard about Cut it Out, Berry decided to invite representatives into her classroom at St. Clair College.

Near the end of the school term this summer, students were taught to speak with the clients about abuse, recognize it, respond to it and then possibly support them, explained Berry.

'I saw hair loss. I saw bruising.' - Michele Berry, hairstylist

Barb MacQuarrie is a community director at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women at Western University in London, Ont.

"They're in a position to recognize things like injuries around the head, and more importantly, in the position to have conversations that are built on trust," she said. "They're likely to get disclosure about trouble at home, trouble with a spouse, a partner. Often when they hear these things I think they feel very badly [and are] very worried about their client, and they just don't know what to do."

Spotting the signs

Four years ago, MacQuarrie helped bring Cut It Out to Ontario.

"They don't have to be professional counsellors," she said. "They just have to not be uncomfortable about talking about this, and be familiar with the resources that exist in their own community."

The program teaches basic warning signs of woman abuse and helps the stylists become comfortable having a discussion with their clients.

They also familiarize them with community programs that can help the woman. Students are given business cards listing phone numbers of local domestic violence agencies.
 
"You only talk about what you see. You don't speculate and you don't judge," said MacQuarrie."If the woman doesn't want to talk about it at that moment, you don't push things. A woman has to be in control of her own process."

Neighbours, Friends and Families

Cut It Out is part of the province's Neighbours, Friends and Families program seeking to end woman abuse through awareness and training people to recognize the signs.

Debra Fowler is the local coordinator who brought the program to Windsor. She is a survivor of domestic abuse.

"I was stalked, I was assaulted five times. I was sexually assaulted twice. I was strangled. I was threatened with knives. I was threatened with a sawed-off shotgun. I was forcibly drugged," she said. "All after I broke up with him."

From her own experiences, she said

"I did drop hints to other people like my doctor and other professionals," she said. "I didn't come out and blatantly say, 'Hey, I'm being abused.'"

But, Fowler says, many of these professionals did not know how to react.

"They didn't know what to say, or they didn't want to get involved," she said. "So, it would have been nice if somebody ... had the tools...."

The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee cited close to 300 people have been murdered since 2002. That includes men, women and children. More than 90 per cent of those deaths have been perpetrated by males.

Barb MacQuarrie said domestic violence is a lot more common than many may think.

"We need to understand there are many, many more women who don't die, but who live in fear for their lives every single day of their lives, who are injured, who are emotionally intimidated, emotionally abused," she said. "It's the day to day silent suffering we don't hear about."