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Massage therapist Marriam Donovan says she grew up watching her stepfather beat her mother, so she's familiar with domestic violence. Now she's being asked to look for similar abuse among her clients.
Donovan and hundreds of other women have received training under a program aimed at reaching victims of domestic violence through their hairstylists, skin care specialists, makeup artists and other salon professionals.
Donovan was among 80 students at the Elizabeth Grady School of Esthetics and Massage Therapy in Medford who participated in a recent session in the "Cut It Out" program run by the office of Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan. The program is designed to teach beauty professionals to identify signs of abuse and to refer clients to local battered women's shelters and other community service providers.
"If I had to help somebody going through this, I think I would do a good job because I've been through it," said Donovan, who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa.
"I know the signs," she said. "I do know how to approach someone without them feeling like they're being judged."
If I had to help somebody going through this, I think I would do a good job because I've been through it.Marriam Donovan
Ryan said "Cut It Out," a program first started in Birmingham, Ala., in 2002, relies on the warm relationships women often have with their beauticians to encourage victims of domestic violence to seek help.
"We're not asking them to become deputies or police. It's really about helping get information into the hands (of victims)," Ryan said.
Ryan started bringing the program to vocational schools in 2009 and then added private salons and beauty schools. Over the last five years, more than 900 people have been trained under the program, she said.
Ryan told the Elizabeth Grady students that because of the personal nature of their work, beauticians are in a unique position to spot signs of violence that many people wouldn't notice, including bumps or scars on the scalp, missing or damaged hair, red marks or bruising on the neck, as well as missed appointments, nervousness or anxiety. They were advised to be supportive and nonjudgmental and to gently refer the woman to brochures or cards in the salon containing information about local groups that can help.
Ryan said the district attorney's office hasn't tracked how many women have been helped by their beauticians, but she said every time she does a training session, someone approaches her to say they know someone who is a victim of domestic violence.
John Walsh, chief executive of The Elizabeth Grady Co., said he decided to ask his students to participate in the program after considering the number of women who could be reached through the company's salons, which last year served more than 300,000 clients.
"By having the training session and educating our staff, it gives them a great resource for referrals," Walsh said.
During the training, the beauticians hear from service providers, including Deb Romvos, who founded the advocacy organization Portal to Hope after escaping her own abusive relationship. Romvos told the Elizabeth Grady students that she was able to rebuild her life with the help of a domestic violence advocate and a police officer.
"It's all our obligation to help," she said.
Tania Alongi, the owner of a beauty salon in Wakefield, attended a training program and said she plans to invite other salon owners to come to her salon to receive training. She said she'd be comfortable broaching the subject with a client if she noticed any abrasions, missing hair or other signs of abuse.
"I would spend a little extra time on that area, and then I would go in front of the chair and ask them if everything is OK," Alongi said.
"With the relationship I have with many of my clients, if I looked them in the eye, they would tell me what is going on in their lives because they know that I care."