Hairdressers are being trained to spot family violence. These are the signs they look for

Family violence kills one Australian woman a week, and has an untold impact on the broader community. But it’s often hard to see and even harder to talk about. An innovative program is training hairdressers across the country to spot the signs and get their clients the help they need.

Jenni Tarrant

Jenni Tarrant, the owner of Canberra-based salon Bond Hair Religion, signed her staff up for the Hair-3Rs training.

“You would be amazed by what clients will talk to their hairdresser about,” says Mandy Hudson, lead educator at  a half-day workshop designed to help hairdressers and beauticians intervene in a client’s potential family violence situation.

“I think it’s because there's someone touching you,” Hudson continues. “That's why people share stuff with hairdressers that they may not share with other people, stuff like family violence.”

Hairdressers who haven’t done the workshop often respond to family violence disclosures in one of two ways – they either change the topic or tell their client, ‘You just need to leave straight away’ – neither of which are helpful.

Dr Hannah McCann researches the role salon workers play in the emotional lives of their clients.

“If someone discloses that their partner is violent and the salon worker encourages them to leave, that’s actually a really dangerous thing for someone to do without any kind of support,” she says.

As the name suggests, Hair 3-Rs has a three-pronged approach – recognise potential signs of family violence; respond to a client’s disclosure; refer them to an appropriate social service.

A slide from the Hair 3Rs workshop, courtesy of EDVOS. A slide from the Hair 3Rs workshop, courtesy of EDVOS.
While hairdressers may instinctively recognise bruises on their client’s neck or tufts of hair missing from their scalp, family violence doesn’t always have a telltale sign – because it’s not always physical.

Bridget*, a coercive control  survivor, opened up to her hairdresser about her experience after seeing a HaiR-3R poster on a salon mirror.

“The most misunderstood thing about family violence is that psychological and emotional violence is just as destructive as physical violence,” she says.

“It’s about control – getting somebody to do, act, think in a way they want you to.

“When [a hairdresser] is willing to just listen, that’s so touching. You’re not asking them to fix it, you just need to be heard.

“It made me feel like I was going to be okay.”
“When I was looking for a hair salon, it came down to whether he would allow me to go to a certain place,” says family violence survivor Bridget.
Jenni Tarrant is the owner of Canberra-based salon Bond Hair Religion and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When she learned about Hair-3Rs she signed up her staff for training.

Tarrant told The Feed “We’re not expected to be social workers; we have a list of referrals for people who are trained for that. That said, you just have to hope that if you're referring someone to a social worker or a women’s refuge that those services actually exist. We need to make sure there’s funding out there.”
Nikki, a HaiR-3Rs participant
Nikki, a HaiR-3Rs participant, says, “I now know that when a client is evasive to touch or wants to split their payment between cards, that those may be signs of family violence
To that end, Renee Carr, executive director of the women’s advocacy organisation Fair Agenda  says, “The amount of funding proposed [for women’s safety in last week’s federal budget] does not match up with the impact gender-based violence has on our lives and our communities.

“The Treasurer committed just $207.4 million of additional funding for women’s safety next financial year. Even with previous budget commitments, this is a long way off the $1 billion a year that the sector has been calling for.

“We are in the midst of a national crisis: the pandemic has worsened the already horrific levels of gender-based violence across the country.”

HaiR-3Rs’ small travelling team of educators have trained just over 1,000 hairdressers. But with more than 70,000 hairdressers across Australia, they have their work cut out for them.
Hudson’s hope is that family violence awareness training will one day soon be a nationally-mandated component of hairdresser apprenticeships and TAFE courses.

“We could work with anyone to fashion a program that would take into account the work they do and the connections they might have with family violence. We’ve worked with dentists. We’ve worked with real estate agents. We’ve worked with people who work with animals. We could go anywhere.”

*Name changed for privacy.

Family violence support services:

Share this with your friends