Monday, March 16, 2009

Salons to Stop Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse, also known as intimate partner violence or IPV, affects approximately 600,000 women in the United States each year (this number rises exponentially when you include emotional and psychological forms of abuse). Social norms promoting male "masculinity" and toughness are often stumbling blocks when it comes to correcting such behavior. Women are often hesitant to leave because they are afraid of what might happen (often with good reason), they believe he will change or that she deserved it, or they lack the skills, social support, or safety net to provided needed care and economic resources.

How can we in public health prevent such horrible abuses from taking place? There is an interesting phenomenon taking place around the country. NPR has talked about it and so has the New York Times

It is the use of hairstylists as advocates for women in abusive relationships.

In the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, and in other communities nationwide, government agencies are helping to train the trusted hairstylists at beauty salons. Given the stigma associated with experiencing IPV it can often be difficult to identify women in violent relationships. That is where this intervention really adds value. By training these women who hear stories of abuse to know what organizations and services are available to help victims they can become advocates on their behalf. They will no longer just be a shoulder to cry on, but rather a powerful community ally. 

More innovative programs like this are needed. Ones that capitalize on the social networks and bonds already established in communities. Now if only we had a rigorous evaluation of the program's effectiveness!

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