Hairdressers Take A Stand Against Domestic Violence
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, a final thought from me about the wonders of Facebook, of all things. That's in just a few minutes.
But first, we're going to go Behind Closed Doors. That's the part of the program where we talk about things often kept hidden. And let's be honest. Domestic violence, being hit or harmed by a member of your household, someone you care about, is exactly the kind of thing most of us want to keep hidden - behind makeup, behind big glasses, maybe behind a wig to hide patches of hair that somebody's pulled out in a rage.
But that very silence, that desire to hide, is party what allows the violence to continue. Well, what if you could get the people who see behind the facade to recognize abuse and step in? That's the idea behind an initiative by several community groups who are training stylists to detect signs of domestic abuse and respond discretely and appropriately.
The best known of these programs is called Cut It Out. Earlier, I caught up with a group of women who are involved in organizing this initiative. Jeri Linas is with the National Cosmetology Association. Ingrid Dominguez works for child welfare services in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood, and Magali Carbuccio is a stylist and owner of Magali's Beauty Salon in Washington Heights. Now Magali only speaks Spanish, so we've added English translation to her part of the conversation. And I started by asking Jeri Linas why a beauty salon would serve as a good place to have discussions about domestic violence.
Ms. JERI LINAS (Director, Community Service Program Development, National Cosmetology Association): I think primarily there's a relationship of trust that happens between the stylist and a victim, for example. And I think you yourself mentioned at the beginning of the show that this is not an issue that most people are very comfortable speaking with. And in fact, a lot of research shows that folks, in fact, don't necessarily call the police or go to court or, you know, nationally, they're more inclined to speak to people that they feel comfortable with. And it might be their pastor, it might be their priest, and very often it's their stylist.
This is a relationship that often has been in the making, if you will, for five, ten, fifteen years. This is a relationship, as I said, that has a lot of trust, not only about the capacity for that stylist to make you feel better and to look great, but also there's a lot of conversation, as you know, happens in the salon about folks' lives. So it's just a very good fit.
MARTIN: Ingrid, what made you want to bring the program to the neighborhood where you're working? How did you get involved?
Ms. INGRID DOMINGUEZ (Child Welfare Services, Washington Heights): The reason that we decided to launch this project in Washington Heights was because of the number of cases that came to my attention, to the agency that I work with, that had a allegation of domestic violence. And we decided, OK, what can we do that is kind of innovative, something that can add to what Cut It Out has already - is doing? Therefore, we decided to bring, you know, to train stylists in their locations, in their language because as you know, on the Washington Heights and Inwood area is predominantly Spanish speaking.
MARTIN: Magali, why did you decide to enroll your salon in this program?
Ms. MAGALI CARBUCCIO (Owner, Magali's Beauty Salon): (Through translator) Well, I did it because I wanted to share this program because we have such deep relationships with our clients. And there is a lot of violence, especially here in Washington Heights. You hear about a lot of domestic violence, and we have a lot of trust with the customer. And so we can see the problem the client has. And the client explains, yes, I do have a problem. You know, bad. That is why I wanted to get involved.
MARTIN: And so what were some of the things that you saw?
Ms. CARBUCCIO: (Through translator) Well, we've seen in some occasions some customers come, and they start crying. They get sad. Some would come with bruises, and we would ask, what's wrong? And we became interested. And I also got into it because other people were involved in the program and they told me that I could help people by participating in this program. You know, helping people, giving them information on where to go.
MARTIN: Magali, can you tell me, what is the training? What kind of training did you get? First to look for the bruises? To ask? To not be afraid to ask?
Ms. CARBUCCIO (Through translator): The most important thing you can do is not to judge. You cannot force them to do anything. On the contrary, you can help them by telling them where they can go, telling them that there are places where you can go. And you can give them the number, the phone number for those places.
MARTIN: And Jeri, if you'd pick up at this point and talk more broadly about the kind of training that folks are getting in this program. Is it to also to make sure you have a list of places that people can go or something like that?
Ms. LINAS: Yes. I think it's very important to let people know that this is not about salon professionals becoming domestic violence advocates. It's more about an awareness program and sharing that awareness and letting people know that there is help and that there are resources. The oversight of the workshop, if you will, in the - overview, rather, is really about educating the salon professional to the dynamics of domestic violence, to be able to recognize it. And sometimes it will be physical and it'll be fairly obvious. Sometimes it might not be so physical. It might be much more emotional or psychological or verbal or economic tactics that keep women in those abusive relationships.
The second step is to respond to that person in a way that is safe and appropriate. So to say something like, would you like me to give you a number that you can call? And, I'm sorry that is happening to you. You don't deserve this. To be empathetic, but again, not to take over, and, if you will, re-victimize them by telling them what they should do. Rather, let it be their choice and then having a resource for them.
MARTIN: Ingrid, can you talk about this whole question of recognizing that certain behavior is abusive? Is that something that you were working on partly in the community, to let people know that certain things are just not OK?
Ms. DOMINGUEZ: Definitely. And I believe that she hit on exactly in the areas that we are trying to cover with these salons to make them aware of the different forms of domestic violence. And also, how to get close or to discuss the subject once they identify or once they believe that a customer is being abused by her partner. And also, providing them with a caddy of literature so that they will have handy and to provide to their customer. And also, the customers can just pick it up and read it while they're waiting, while they're sitting under the hairdryer if they're not ready to share.
And this is something that we tried to have readily available to each of the salons that we train. We visit them on a monthly basis to ensure that they have sufficient material, to provide them with the support just in case they have identified a victim that is not ready to make that step but they are highly concerned. And they might need one of us that have more of the experience in handling this type of situation to maybe approach that client and help her or direct her to take upon the right decision.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Ingrid Dominguez, Magali Carbuccio and Jeri Linas about the role hairstylists can play in combating domestic abuse. We're talking about a program called Cut It Out.
Magali, can I ask you? This is not without some risk for you as a business owner because you could see a scenario where a customer might not come back if they don't want to admit or they might be ashamed that someone has discovered their secret. Did you hesitate at all in bringing this program in, and why do you feel so strongly about it?
Ms. CARBUCCIO: (Through Translator) I almost always have a very direct contact with my customers. I have their phone numbers and besides being my clients, they're almost always my friends. And when I see that a client hasn't called me in a while, I call her and try to communicate with her. Up until now, that is the best way of communication I have. If a customer has disappeared, I would react by trying to look for her. And I mean, yes, I am a little a bit scared for the store and for myself but I always try to keep moving forward and help. That is the most important thing.
MARTIN: And Magali, can you tell me, can you think of an example where someone was helped by the intervention of one of your stylists or yourself?
Ms. CARBUCCIO: (Through Translator) Well, yes. I was able to help a client who came to me. She came with some bruises, so I immediately thought she was in a situation of domestic violence. Thank God, that was not the case. Because you know, domestic violence, it's not just hitting someone. There's also emotional violence. And in fact, I have a customer who has a lot of emotional abuse going on. Her partner is abusing her emotionally, and I have tried to help her. Actually, just a while ago, I sent her to a program for domestic violence.
MARTIN: And was it that the woman did not know where to turn or that she didn't really understand that it was wrong?
Ms. CARBUCCIO: (Through Translator) No. She did not know that she was being victimized. She thought that her partner was doing this to her because of financial troubles. Her family lives out of state and he did not want her to go see them. He was very manipulative. So I explained to her, after going through this training, I understood that this is a form of abuse. So I talked to her, and she understood me because like I told you, besides being my customer, she's my friend. And now she's opening her eyes a little, and thank God, I have been able to help.
MARTIN: It sounds to me, Jeri, like part of the benefit here is that you're increasing the number - it's just not the physical signs but you're increasing the number of people who are willing to say, this is wrong and to stop enabling the conduct or looking the other way.
Ms. LINAS: Absolutely.
MARTIN: Because there are certain people whose job it is, like if you're a school teacher, for example, police officers, the law says, you know, you have to intervene, or a nurse or a doctor. But it sounds to me like what you're kind of doing is expanding the circle of people who feel empowered to say something.
Ms. LINAS: Yes. I think it's about building a community response and a comprehensive community response. So the police officer is certainly one partner but not everyone is going to go to the police officer. The social service agents, these are another partner. The churches, and of course, the salons. Most people in the United States are totally aware that domestic violence exists. They're not in denial about that, but they don't know what quite what to do about it. They don't know what to do about it in terms of what to say, whether it's to a family member or a friend or to a client. And I think programs like Cut It Out are tools that enable those folks who are in the community to say, I don't like this. I don't like that it's happening in my community or in my family or in my faith community or in my business. And I want to be able to give a message loud and clear. It is unacceptable. It's not the way we should be with each other in intimate relationships.
MARTIN: Ingrid, final thought from you. What do you think the chief benefit of this program is?
Ms. DOMINGUEZ: At least in our community, I believe that the chief benefit is that the information is coming and it's being shared in the language that the majority of the cosmetologists speak so they're better able to understand. We understand from the cultural perspective. I'm just fascinated to see how the community has embraced the project, how eager they are, and the number of women, not only stylists but also customers that sometime when we're training, since we train in the salon doing during the business hours, the customer have the opportunity also to hear what we're training on, and they open up and they discuss their issues, the domestic issues that they're going through. And sometimes they're not even aware, and just by listening to the different dynamics, they become aware and they begin to share and say, you know, I am in this situation. It's not one salon that we have trained, that at least three to four - either customer or stylist - are experiencing abuse in their home.
MARTIN: Tell me that again. You're saying that in every salon you train - how many salons have you offered this training, Ingrid, in your community?
Ms. DOMINGUEZ: So far, it's like 25 salons.
MARTIN: So in 25 salons, over 20-25 salons where you've trained, at least three or four people have come forward to say, this is happening to me.
Ms. DOMINGUEZ: Yes.
MARTIN: And what do you think the key is, Ingrid? Is it that nobody ever told them before that this was not OK? Is it that somebody set a boundary or is it that somebody gave them permission to talk about it? What do you think is the key here?
Ms. DOMINGUEZ: I think that it's just seeing a bunch of women sitting around, talking comfortably, no one is judging them, everyone is opening up and sharing their own experience. They like put their guards down and they feel, OK, this is a safe place where I can share my issues, my problem without being judged. And possibly, I will be directed and provided with the assistance needed.
MARTIN: Ingrid Dominguez works for child welfare services in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood, and she directs the Beauty Salon Awareness Project there. She joined us from our New York bureau. Magali Carbuccio is a stylist and owner of Magali's Beauty Salon in Washington Heights. She was kind enough to take a few minutes out of the weekend beauty rush to speak to us on the phone from the salon. And Jeri Linas is with the National Cosmetology Association. She joined us from Chicago. Ladies, thank you so much.
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