AIKEN - Between the swish of a brush and the drone of a hair dryer, most hairstylists learn a lot about customers sitting in the chair for a trim.
"We actually hear a lot more than a lot of people do," said Pamela Willard, the owner of Alpha & Omega Hair Design in Aiken. "We're confided in, and most of my clients and I are like family. If they have a problem, they know that we are going to help them."
South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault want to take advantage of this scissors-and-confession relationship by training hairdressers and salon professionals to recognize signs of domestic violence and refer their clients to a hot line for help. Mr. McMaster and the group launched the Cut It Out program Wednesday.
In 2002, South Carolina ranked first in the nation for women killed by men, said Mr. McMaster's spokesman, Trey Walker. Many cases of domestic violence go unreported.
South Carolina is one of 11 states joining in the Cut It Out program that was developed a year ago by Clairol Professional, National Cosmetology Association and Southern Living at Home.
"These are some of the few people we allow to touch us in our society, and the relationship is very close," said Vi Nelson, a spokeswoman for the National Cosmetology Association. "But we remind them that they are not there to fix it."
Ms. Nelson said a hairstylist might notice a bump on a client's head that would be hidden to most people or a nail technician will see bruises on arms. She said salon professionals are not asked to pry into people's private lives, but to simply make the phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, (800) 799-SAFE, available to people who come into salons.
Giselle Bianco, the owner of Spa-Go in Aiken, has donated facial treatments for women housed by the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons Inc. and said she is interested in the domestic violence awareness program.
"It's definitely for a good cause," Ms. Bianco said. "Unfortunately, we have to look out for different things like this."
There are now training sessions at many of the large cosmetology trade shows about how to identify signs of domestic violence. Mr. Walker said there will soon be regional training sessions in South Carolina.
"We will have small posters in discreet areas like rest rooms and changing rooms and business-sized cards that women can slip into their purse," Ms. Nelson said. "We may never know if we help. The best we can do is to make the information available."
Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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