Salon professionals can be relief valve for domestic violence

05/13/2013 12:00 AM

05/12/2013 10:19 AM

Jackinlin “Jackie” Estremera was on the verge of confiding in her Kissimmee, Fla., hairstylist about her abusive ex-boyfriend — but before she could, friends say, he showed up at the salon door and the conversation ended.

Salon owner Magaly Class remembered with regret how her friend’s eyes pleaded for help. But she wasn’t sure how to give it. Weeks later, in April 2011, Estremera was shot to death by her ex.

Noting the intimacy and trust that exist between many people and their hairstylists, domestic-violence advocates in places like Osceola County, Fla. — in partnership with law enforcement — are adopting a national campaign to educate and train salon workers to spot signs of abuse.

“Women form special bonds with the people who do their personal care,” said Evelyn Herrera-Jackson of Help Now of Osceola Inc., one of four organizations serving domestic-violence survivors in Central Florida. “Salon professionals are supposed to make the customer feel comforted, and when that happens, people open up.”

Similar programs have been around for more than a decade. In Alabama, for example, a coalition of stylists and advocates started “Cut It Out” to train and supply salon professionals with information, said Brad Masterson, a spokesman for the Professional Beauty Association.

“For many women and men, sometimes the salon is their only chance to get away,” he said, adding that the program received renewed attention last year after domestic-violence-related shootings killed at least 15 people in Milwaukee, Southern California and Casselberry, Fla.

“I think that if more people understood that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, it can be a first step toward a unified, nationwide response to this,” said Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence. “We have to move from it being a ‘private matter’ to, as a society, taking a stand against violence and do everything we can to prevent it.”

Estremera, a mother of five, kept the violence hidden because, as the oft-repeated Spanish refrain goes, “Los trapos sucios se lavan en casa” or, loosely translated, “Dirty laundry is washed at home.”

Victim advocate Carmen Vargas, a civilian employee with the Kissimmee Police Department, has been helping battered men, women and children in the city of 60,000 for the past 12 years.

When Estremera’s ex-boyfriend shot the 30-year-old in the parking lot of her Kissimmee apartment, it was Vargas who comforted and found shelter for the former couple’s five newly orphaned children.

“It’s socially unacceptable to talk about this,” said Vargas, who was called out to 72 domestic-violence incidents in April alone. “I’d love to be wrong, but the truth is, it’s still a secret.”

Salon professionals are privileged — and cursed, in some respects — because of the close, long-term contact they have with their clients.

They can see the bruises. They can listen. They can validate the victim’s experience. And most importantly, they can detect changes in behavior and communicate concern, Herrera-Jackson said.

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