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Brigid Cox, 55, grew up as one of 13 children in what she calls a strictly disciplined household. “Today it would probably be considered abusive, but back in the ’60s we didn’t think of it that way,” she says. That upbringing led her to believe that the abuse she faced at the hands of her husband in her 25 years of marriage wasn’t all that bad.
“I thought, since I didn’t have a broken arm and I never went to the emergency room, it wasn’t actually abuse or violence. I thought all men did that,” she says.
But someone in Cox’s life disagreed. Beth was Cox’s hairdresser in Atlanta for more than 15 years, and Cox found herself confiding in her during their styling appointments.
“As things were getting worse, I was talking to her,” Cox says. “The more I talked, the more Beth got really quiet. She came around the chair and looked me in the face and said, ‘I know you think it’s not that bad, but would you at least fill out a questionnaire?’ I was a little taken aback,” Cox admits.
Beth handed Cox a manila envelope that contained both the questionnaire and extensive information about local domestic violence shelters and resources. Cox completed the 10 questions and at the end saw that answering “yes” to three or more questions meant you could be in grave danger. Cox had nine “yes” responses.
She quickly put a plan in place to leave her husband. It was a rocky process, but over time she got a restraining order, filed for divorce and relocated to Scottsdale, Ariz., where her sister lived. She credits Beth for recognizing her struggles and giving her the information she needed to break free.
Today, Cox is remarried and working to help other domestic violence survivors escape their abuse. Her former hairdresser, Beth, doesn’t know what a difference she made in Cox’s life. Things happened quickly once Cox started the process of leaving her husband, and she was no longer living in Atlanta. When she returned later, the hair salon was no longer there. Cox says, “I want to get in touch with her so badly. She saved my life.”
The Professional Beauty Association (PBA) began CUT IT OUT: Salons Against Domestic Abuse nationwide in 2003 to teach salon professionals, manicurists, massage therapists and other professionals, like Beth, how to recognize the signs of domestic violence and how to offer support.
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“We recognize the nurturing and personal relationship that develops between a salon professional and their client,” says Rachel Molepske, PBA’s manager of leadership operations. Many times, abusers isolate their partners, and salons may be one of the few places where survivors are not under watch.
Every year, CUT IT OUT connects domestic violence advocates with professionals at salons, schools and beauty events across the country. In a 1 ½-hour training session, salon professionals learn the three Rs:
- Recognizing signs of verbal and physical domestic abuse
- Responding to the client appropriately
- Referring the client to professional help
Cox, who now teaches a training course for CUT IT OUT, is part of the effort to train salon students and professionals about physical warning signs of abuse, such as bruises or missing hair, as well as signs like fearfulness or discussions about issues in their relationship.
“If they don’t respond well to questioning we teach that it’s okay to back off, but to try to keep paying attention,” she says. “We teach them not to try to make people get help, but to take them aside, speak quietly, and give them the information.”
She’s enthusiastic about the difference the program can make as it expands. “I want to get to as many schools as I can,” she says. “Everybody gets their hair cut. This program could really change things.”
Do You Know a Domestic Violence Hero?
DomesticShelters.org is looking for individuals doing heroic things, big or small, within their communities to help survivors of domestic violence. If you know someone, let us know about them by emailing Amanda@DomesticShelters.org and they may be featured in an upcoming story. #DomesticViolenceHeroes
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