Nicol Wiley headed for the break room at her cosmetology school in Poway, Calif. There, she found a young woman. She had asked for Wiley, her instructor at the school.
"What's going on?" Wiley asked. When the young woman took off her sunglasses, she took Wiley's breath away."Both eyes were severely swollen," Wiley recalls. "And it looked like her nose was broken."
All this was sickeningly familiar to Wiley, who was abused five years ago.
"I'm trying not to cry," Wiley remembers. "I've seen a lot, but that was severe. To see another woman go through something like that was heartbreaking."
What Wiley did next is what many other stylists will be doing in the future through the "Cut It Out" program. Her employer, San Diego Beauty Academies, will be the first in California to participate.
As the national program materials state: Salon professionals "are among the most trusted people a woman knows. They know all about each other's lives, families, children, jobs and more. But sometimes more is needed. When a woman is in an abusive relationship, she needs help but may not know where to turn."
Wiley turned to Lynelle Lynch, president of San Diego Beauty Academies, and learned that Lynch was preparing to launch "Cut It Out" at the company's three cosmetology schools. Lynch gave Wiley some information to pass on to the student, information Wiley could have used five years ago.
"He held me down and tried to use pepper spray," she says, recalling her own situation a few years ago while she, too, was in beauty school. "He was screaming at me. He poured a bottle of vodka over my head and said he was going to set me on fire."
Wiley says, the next thing she knew, "I was standing in my front yard, six cops cars are in front of my house in this quiet, older neighborhood. I'm outside, in my pajamas, my hair piled on my head, crying my eyes out. And I said to myself, there is no way I will ever go through this again. I thought, I'm a bad Lifetime movie. I don't want to be this person."
It all came back to Wiley as she talked to her student.
"Did your boyfriend do this to you?" Wiley asked.
The young woman nodded.
"Do you want me to take you to the hospital?"
"Do you want to go to the police?"
"I feel strongly you need medical attention," Wiley urged.
"I don't have insurance."
Wiley drifts back to the present.
"She's 19," Wiley says softly. "She's an adult. I can't force her to do anything. It broke my heart. I know this person. God help her, he'll kill her."
"Cut It Out" started in Alabama, created by The Women's Fund of Greater Birmingham and the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence. More than 500 Alabama salon professionals were trained in 2002. Dianne Mooney, founder and executive director of Southern Living At HOME, based in Birmingham, believed "Cut It Out" could help domestic violence victims all across the country.
In the meantime, the National Cosmetology Association and Clairol Professional also had decided to do something about domestic violence. In 2003, the three organizations formed a partnership, and "Cut It Out" became a national program.
Now, local salon professionals will be able to learn the signs of domestic abuse and provide resources to their clients, and anyone else who needs them. San Diego Beauty Academies' three schools - Poway Academy, Bay Vista College and Je Boutique College - will serve as training centers for San Diego County salon and spa professionals.
"If we can make a difference in the lives we touch, that's what today is all about," says Lynch, who organized the first training session earlier this month at the Poway school. About 30 stylists, salon owners and others gathered for a two-hour presentation by local experts: Casey Gwinn, CEO of the YWCA of San Diego County and president of the Board of Trustees for the National Family Justice Center Alliance; Amelia Barile Simon from the Office of Violence Prevention; Mark Foreman, director of the San Diego Family Justice Center; and Vanessa Rodriguez, Domestic Violence Hotline and Volunteer Manager at the Center for Community Solutions.
Those agencies, along with county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced in December their support for "Cut It Out" and their intention to push for the program to be available throughout the region.
A recent story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, which serves Poway, included officials' observations that there have been more than 150 domestic violence-related deaths during the last 10 years. Last year, the story reported, the District Attorney's Office filed nearly 3,000 domestic violence cases, and the county domestic violence hot line, created by Dumanis in 2003, receives 5,600 calls a year.
At the training, the experts covered the basics through stories of abuse on videotape and discussion of what domestic abuse is, what causes it, the signs that it's happening, why a person stays in the situation.
"You get it in your head that it's your fault, your problem," Wiley says. "Emotionally, they work you down; slowly and surely wear you down, until they can cross that line."
A second video presentation demonstrated how to approach clients, what to do and not do, and what specific help to offer.
Several in attendance spoke of concern for some of their clients, people who often say more about their personal lives than would be expected.
"Oh, yeah," Wiley says. "But because of that, I know who is being mistreated. This program is so perfect for stylists."
The goal is to make salon professionals feel confident that they can help. At the training in Poway, people were told how prevalent the problem is, how to recognize signs of domestic abuse in clients, communicate a sense of empathy and direct them to local and national resources.
Wiley took copious notes that morning. She's determined to do what she can for women who need her help, women who can learn from her story.
Wiley, who just turned 30, says her ex-husband was charged with assault and battery and went to jail.
"I packed my bags and was out."
Today, she says, "I'm not ashamed of what happened to me. I was, in the beginning. But because it happened to me, it's important to be aware of it in others."
She is happily remarried, she says, and happy she was able to help someone else.
"I walked my student out to the car, gave her some numbers and gave her the basics of the 'Cut It Out' program. I told her, 'There are people who want to help you, want to protect you. You deserve better. No one deserves to be hit.' I told her, 'I'm not a counselor, just an instructor, and I'm glad you came to me, but please get to these people. They will point you in all the right directions.'
"She went home. She got medical attention. Thank God for a school that's so proactive."
Signs of abuse
By Jane Clifford
Copley News Service
The "Cut It Out" program offers the following information to salon professionals and, to some degree, to everyone concerned with preventing domestic abuse:
Signs that a client or someone you know may be abused. (One sign does not prove abuse. However, a combination of them, or repeated signs, may indicate abuse):
- Isolation from friends and family.
- Low self-esteem, a sense that she doesn't deserve better treatment.
- Self-blame or unrealistic guilt. ("It's my fault, I shouldn't havemade him mad.")
- Partner always accompanies client to appointments or waits outside in the parking lot.
- Fear of the partner, insecurity about his actions.
- Bruising in different stages of healing, especially if the bruising is in areas not usually seen by others, such as the scalp.
- Bald spots indicating hair has been torn or pulled out.
- Frequent injuries, especially with unusual explanations.
- Injuries not seen but indicated by general mobility difficulties because of soreness, tenderness, bruising.
You might also notice the following behavior:
- The partner dictates the frequency of her salon visits.
- The partner will not allow her to change her hair color or style.
- The partner is controlling or excessively jealous. What can you do if a client or someone you know is being abused?
- Believe the person who tells you that she is being abused. Her abuser might have her convinced that she is at fault or that she doesn't deservebetter treatment.
- Keep whatever she tells you confidential. Her life may be at stake.
- Gently guide her to find help. Suggest that she contact her local domestic violence agency or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline(800-799-SAFE). Suggest that she needs to consult a qualified, objectivethird party.
- Don't try to fix the problem for her or become her counselor. Your local domestic violence agency is staffed with trained personnel to counsel victims and help ensure their safety. All have access to a shelter or safe house. Don't put yourself in harm's way or increase the danger for thevictim by getting in the middle.
- Help others to understand that domestic violence is absolutely, totally unacceptable and usually escalates over time. Have the number of yourlocal agency or the National Domestic Violence Hotline number handy.
Visit www.cutitout.org more information on the program.
- One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assaultby an intimate partner each year.
- Seventy-three percent of family-violence victims are female. Women represented 84 percent of spousal-abuse victims and 86 percent ofboyfriend-abuse victims. Historically, women most often have been victimized by someone they knew.
- Women ages 20 to 24 are at the greatest risk for intimate partner violence.
- Witnessing violence between one's parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
- Thirty percent to 60 percent of perpetrators of intimate-partner violence also abuse children.
- Almost one-third of the female homicide victims in police records are killed by an intimate partner.
- Three in four women who are killed during domestic violence had been stalked by the killer.
- Less than one in five victims reporting an injury from intimate partner violence sought medical treatment following the injury.