In Washington County, FRIENDS Inc. is training a very specific group of professionals in how to recognize if their clients may be experiencing domestic violence: salon workers.
Modeled off a similar program in Illinois, violence awareness experts go to area salons to teach hair stylists about what to do if they notice red flags, like bruising or bumps on the head.
Last year, the group focused on the medical community including emergency departments, physicians, and EMT’s.
“These professionals are in a unique position to intervene if they suspect domestic violence may be happening to a client or patient,” says Melissa Emberts, legal advocate at FRIENDS Inc. “They may be the only people the client is able to spend time alone with, giving them an opportunity to ask if everything is okay at home.”
A United Way program partner, FRIENDS Inc. is a full-service domestic violence and sexual assault shelter providing free, confidential, and trauma-informed care. They also run a 24-hour hotline that victims or friends and family can access with questions and concerns.
The typical stay for a client is about 90 days. After that time, the staff of FRIENDS helps that person decide what the next steps are, including connect clients to transitional housing and providing additional group counseling support. “We want victims to be able to make their own decisions,” says Melissa, “we are here to ensure that they can become safe and independent.”
In addition to their shelter and hotline services, FRIENDS provides legal advocacy, group therapy, art therapy for children, and prevention education throughout the community.
In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, FRIENDS is out in the community spreading the word about their services and providing education around domestic violence.
“To help prevent violence, it is important that people believe it exists and understand that it doesn’t look the same inside vs. outside of the relationship,” says Melissa, “abuse can be physical, emotional, even financial.”
Volunteers from the community are crucial to the work, providing childcare, picking up groceries and supplies for the shelter, interpreting, and being a kind and supportive presence for victims in the hospital. During United Way’s Season of Caring, groups of volunteers help update the shelter, giving rooms a fresh coat of paint and assembling picnic tables.
FRIENDS Inc. is celebrating several milestones over the next year: their 40th anniversary and the decision to make their location public. While domestic violence agencies are often in undisclosed location due to safety concerns, FRIENDS hopes that by disclosing their location they can spread awareness of their services and actually increase safety by the fact that the community as a whole will know where the agency and support the safety of all.
“Our biggest priority is that our clients feel safe and secure here,” says Melissa.