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A new program trains beauticians to help domestic violence victims

By J. Atley Smedley | Photography by  | Published Nov. 11, 2018
Troy Cornes
Salon 501 stylists

Every minute, 24 people in the U.S. suffer some form of violence at the hands of an intimate partner—this is according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which estimates that some 12 million people are affected by rape, violence or stalking annually.

Here in Kentucky, the numbers paint a bleaker picture than the national average, with an approximate one in three women and one in ten men reporting some form of abusive behavior or sexual assault by a partner. Thankfully, a heightened awareness of personal safety in the Commonwealth has led to numerous projects and campaigns aimed at empowering victims, and one such project takes the objective to a place where many abused women go to find refuge: the hair salon.

For many victims of domestic violence, a day at the hair salon offers more than just a cut and a color—it’s a place of solace and community, where stylists build important relationships through supportive listening. Taylor Zumwalt, a student in Northern Kentucky University’s Master of Social Work program, sees these unique relationships as opportunities to help women escape abusive situations.

A northern Kentucky native, Taylor earned a B.S. in psychology from Morehead State University. But when preparing for graduation, she found herself at a crossroads—should she pursue a graduate degree in psychology or start her career? Neither seemed quite right. A psychology degree was too specific, but she couldn’t do enough with just a bachelor’s degree. Then a visit to NKU’s graduate open house presented exactly what she needed.

“I went to the open house and it was awesome. Everyone was so helpful, the campus was so pretty,” said Taylor. “I found my place in the Master of Social Work program because it gave me so many options. I could do direct-client services or be in charge of a non-profit.”

While doing research for one of her projects, Taylor stumbled across a new law in the state of Illinois that requires salon professionals receive training on how to recognize victims of domestic violence. As the MSW program requires two internships, her realization that Kentucky doesn’t have a similar law in place led her to start Highlights of Hope, a training program through NKU’s Norse Violence Prevention program that helps salon professionals understand the signs of domestic violence and provide victims with resources to seek help.

Salon trainings

“Many salon professionals were saying that their clients tell them a lot of personal things and are seeing signs of what they think is domestic violence, but they don’t know how to handle them,” she said. “It sparked my idea, and I knew it was perfect for our area. Why can’t we train people ourselves even without a law? Everyone deserves solace.”

The newly created program is focused on training beauty professionals to recognize and respond to signs of abuse, but it’s also aimed at helping victims escape their abusers through the help of local domestic violence resources. Knowing the dangers victims face when leaving an abusive partner, Taylor designed resources for salons—posters with messages like “love shouldn’t hurt,” and window clings that advertise “Highlights of Hope Stylist” are just a few ways the program cultivates an empathetic environment.

“If someone sits down in your chair and they see that sticker, they might wonder what it’s about. Domestic violence in Kentucky impacts about one in three women, so there is a likelihood you know or are a victim,” Taylor advocated. “We don’t talk about things we are uncomfortable with, and there’s a big stigma behind domestic violence. The whole purpose of this training is to make people feel comfortable, to make people feel like they can have this conversation and be educated about it and know the signs.”

Right now, 501 Salon and Spa in Bellevue, Kentucky, Michael's College of Hair Design in Florence, Kentucky, Zoe Grace Salon in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, and Absolute Salon and Spa in Butler, Kentucky, are receiving training from Taylor’s program. Highlights of Hope aspires to empower all salons and beauty schools in northern Kentucky, and she hopes to take it national one day. Taylor’s goal is to have every professional in the business trained to aid domestic violence victims, so that finding oneself in the chair of a stylist with tools to help isn’t just a matter of luck.

Highlights of Hope has given new meaning to Taylor’s education as she observes the real-world impact classroom-taught skills can have on the community. Once confused about what she wanted to do with her life, her experience with Highlights of Hope has led Taylor to the career goal of one day leading a women’s crisis center.

“There aren’t enough people out there helping victims,” she says. “I want to highlight hope for people in hopeless situations. It’s all about giving them a voice.”

Highlights of Hope is actively training new salons, so if you or someone you know would like to a part of this program, contact Norse Violence Prevention.