An unexpected source of help

Every woman knows the hair salon is the place where we literally let down our hair and chat freely.

I faced a minimum 30-minute wait to see my doctor when another patient sat down beside me and tossed aside one woman’s magazine after another as I had done until I found a general magazine with community issues in northwestern B.C.

I put down my publication saying, “You might find this one interesting.”

Instead she took my words as a prompt to disclose her life story in a monologue that lasted until the nurse called me in.

The lady launched into her history of relentless domestic violence beginning at age 16 when she became pregnant and married the older man, a drunk who ferociously abused her regularly, damaging one eye and breaking her cheekbone.

She pointed to an inch long scar on one cheek.

After years of enduring his drunken rages and bearing four children, she walked out, leaving the kids with him; he threatened to take them from her if she left with them. (Children Services soon moved the children to foster homes. Now she is 53 and none of her four kids will have anything to do with her.)

Somewhere along – I lost track – she lived for a time with her grandmother before marrying another drunken abuser, (and drinking along with him).

She bore him a son, now in his 30s, and they are on good terms, she visits with him and his wife and  10-year-old daughter.

Winding up her life story, she said, “The man I‘m living with is a drunkard and an abuser. He’s waiting to take me home after this appointment.”

I wanted to say, “Lady, don’t you detect a pattern here? Yours is not a normal life and you don’t have to continue living this way.”

But after living this way for decades, being mistreated by a partner probably feels normal to her. She likely believes it’s the most she should expect because she doesn’t deserve better.

Or maybe she accepts the old adage, “If he hurts you, he loves you.” What a crock!

Recently Russia cancelled a law under which domestic violence had been an indictable offence.

Lawmakers felt they were meddling too much in family affairs; anyway Russian families experience only rare instances of domestic violence or child beating. (As if!)

From here on, only abuse leaving broken bones will be punished by criminal law, otherwise convicted abusers will only pay a fine.

Fortunately, the U.S. (and Ontario,  too) is tackling domestic abuse by a new avenue – hairdressers.

Even abused women often manage to keep regular hairdressing appointments, and every woman knows the hair salon is the place where we literally let down our hair and chat freely.

In addition, bruises often show up on the scalp or neck where they can be camouflaged from the public, but not from the stylist.

Beginning in January, all hairdressers in Illinois seeking renewal of their licenses must take part in domestic violence training – how to recognize it, how to offer victim support.

This mandatory course teaches the stylist to offer non-judgmental support that won’t result in repercussions for her or for the client.

Support can be as basic as providing information about local referral agencies, names and phone numbers of nearby transition houses; offering use of a phone to make a few calls or use of a computer to research information without alerting the abuser.

This isn’t Russia.

We admit domestic violence is rampant, often deadly. Our statistics prove it.

Take a stand.

Share your abusive situation.

Seek a way out. Let family, friends, or your hairdresser, guide you to a happier life.

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