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Proof hairdressers have big hearts

Posted: 11am 10 Mar 2021

Hairdressers and barbers will play an important role in linking victims of domestic and family violence and elder abuse to potentially lifesaving resources through a new program by Hairdressers with Hearts (HwH).

The non-profit organisation has launched an Australian-first training program designed to support the nation’s 67,000-plus hairdressers and barbers to use the sanctity of the client-hairdresser relationship to connect victims who have confided in them with relevant professional services.

The program has been developed with the assistance of the Red Rose Foundation, Caxton Legal and the Centre Against Domestic Abuse.

HwH Founder Sonia Colvin, who has already helped connect more than 200 victims with appropriate services, says sometimes going to the hairdresser was the only time a domestic violence or elder abuse victim was on their own, and able to speak safely about their situation at home.

“I’ve had clients say to me ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this’ or ‘I can’t believe I just told you all that’, and while trends may come and go in this industry, what stays the same is the unique client-hairdresser connection,” Sonia says.

“Hairdressers and barbers are frontline in the community, reaching people on a grassroots level, having intimate conversations with clients on a regular weekly, monthly or six weekly basis.

“Our industry can make a huge difference to some of the nation’s most vulnerable, whether we are hairdressers and barbers based in a salon, working remotely or in rural areas, in multicultural or aged-care communities, or providing mobile services in people’s homes.

“We are not domestic violence or elder abuse workers, we are the link, and with the correct resources and appropriate training, we can do our part.”

More than physical abuse

Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council co-Chair Kay McGrath OAM says it’s important to remember that domestic and family violence goes way beyond physical abuse.

“It includes the domination and control of a supposed loved one in all aspects of their life. Devastatingly, 1 in 3 Australian women are at risk of experiencing domestic violence, and every day as many as 10 women are admitted to hospital with injuries inflicted by a family member or domestic partner,” she says.

In her view, the HwH training is innovative in that it upskills hairdressers and barbers to recognise the signs of abuse, as well as providing them with the resources to refer clients to specialist support.

“While the scale of the problem seems large, if we concentrate on these small but important acts, we can all make a difference,” she explains.

Looking for signs

HwH Ambassador and domestic violence survivor Simone O’Brien says there are a number of physical, financial and emotional warning signs of which hairdressers and barbers should be aware of.

“The most obvious signs are generally physical such as bruises, a busted lip, black eyes, red or purple marks on the neck, hair missing, smashed phone, tenderness of the head and neck at the basin, anxiety and looking at their watch or phone continuously,” she explains.

“Victims commonly to try to cover up the physical signs with clothing, wearing scarves or long sleeves on hot days, heavier make up or wearing sunglasses inside.

“Financial signs can include extreme budgeting for hair services such as paying $100 in cash and only paying $10 on card; anxiety about how long the appointment is taking and whether the cost is increasing; many text messages about time and costs; not having access to a vehicle or bank cards.

“The perpetrator may even attend the appointment, monitoring the client’s every movement; sit out the front of the salon or in the car outside; or tell the hairdresser how the victim is to have their hair done.”

Hairdressers and barbers who join the program will be provided with training, merchandise and resources and can sign up to become an accredited salon on the HwH website.

Strong start

Since the program’s launch on Saturday, there has been a groundswell of support.

• More than 120 hairdressers have registered for training across Australia – some sole traders and some with up to 13 staff

• Brisbane City Council has announced it will fund training for eight hairdressers/barbers in each of their 26 wards

• Hairdressers with Hearts has had inquiries from other councils to fund training and inquiries from women’s organisations and businesses in the corporate sector to fund training

• Hairdressers with Hearts ambassador Lisa Curry has announced she will fund 80 hairdressers/barbers

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