PC grad sets sights on defeating domestic violence one stylist at a time
As Taylor Zumwalt grew up, she watched friends deal with situations involving domestic violence. “I felt like the system failed these individuals because there was very little anyone could do to help.
“Now, I can help.”
Zumwalt, a 2013 graduate of Pendleton County High School and a graduate student at NKU, is working in cooperation with Norse Violence Prevention, or NVP, to train hair stylists in the Northern Kentucky area to identify signs of domestic abuse in their clients.
The program, Highlights of Hope, began as her internship project—a project that was supposed to end in December. Now, she finds that the concept has not only taken on something of a life of its own; it has also ignited a passion that she never realized was so intense.
The foundation for Zumwalt’s idea originated with an article she read in the New York Times. That article discussed an organization there, Chicago Says No More, and its movement to train all who work in the business of cosmetology—hair stylists, manicurists, or any similar field—to identify indicators that their clients are dealing with some form of domestic violence. As a result of the organization’s work, Illinois passed a law that requires cosmetologists to have a one-hour training to learn to identify signs of domestic violence and to hold any needed conversations. That law takes effect in 2019.
Zumwalt saw that a similar program could possibly meet the needs of this area. She worked with advisors at NKU and started planning.
Upon her request, the organization Chicago Says No More sent Zumwalt the materials for their program, but she was not allowed to use those materials directly. “While I had those materials to refer to,” she states, “the content that I present is all mine.” With the help and financial backing of NVP, she refined her project and prepared to take it to stylists in the area.
Why stylists? “Stylists have a unique place in the community,” Zumwalt explains. “Almost everyone gets a haircut at some point, so they have access to a large portion of the community. Clients develop relationships with their stylists, and the time in the chair is usually long and uninterrupted—a half an hour or more. These factors lead people to disclose a great deal of information to their stylists. And domestic violence is here. Difficult situations are being discussed with stylists who often feel they are not equipped with the tools to handle them.”
Zumwalt worked to equip her first stylists in late October when two salons, Salon 501 in Bellevue and Michael’s College of Hair Design in Florence, went through the training. The materials included pre-training and post-training survey.
“The questions on the survey centered on what they had experienced. Before I did the training, most didn’t think they had seen signs of domestic abuse,” Zumwalt states. “By the end of the training, several realized that they had witnessed signs.” Indeed, of 35 stylists surveyed at the end of the training, 13 said they had likely encountered a victim of domestic abuse.
The results didn’t really surprise Zumwalt. “One of every three women in the state of Kentucky is affected by domestic violence, and one of every four is affected across the nation. I expected stylists to see the problem.”
While the training does not focus solely on identifying female victims, women are more likely to be victimized by domestic violence. The training also goes beyond looking for both gender and physical signs.
“We train stylists to identify any type of domestic violence: physical, emotional, sexual coercion, reproductive abuse, digital abuse, and financial abuse. You may not see physical signs, but are you hearing evidence that the person’s partner is putting up a barrier to leaving by withholding finances or causing birth control failures, things like that? We train so that they can have discussions about those signs, as well.”
While they may see evidence that leads them to believe victims are sitting in their chairs, Zumwalt’s training does not encourage stylists to initiate the conversations even if they suspect something. “We caution the trainees not to ask outright about any suspicions they have because they could be incorrect, and that would be embarrassing; or they could be correct, and that could make the victim uncomfortable if he or she isn’t ready to talk about the issue yet. If abuse is happening, that could put the person in danger of retaliation from the perpetrator, as well.
“But we train to address if the conversations occur. It is like CPR. You don’t go to a person and administer CPR if he gives no sign he needs it. The same goes for our role in addressing domestic violence issues. If the person initiates the conversation, then you are ready to help, but you don’t step in until that person indicates there is a problem.”
And that December completion date? Things changed.
Zumwalt is surprised by her vision, and she is inspired by people who care. “I never dreamed I would be so passionate about this! The response was overwhelming. Now, I plan to go on to August 2019. I want to reach more stylists. I want to go to Ohio with the program, and Eastern Kentucky is wanting to talk with me, too.”
While many are excited about the program, Zumwalt and the salons sometimes face difficulties making contact.
“The biggest obstacle is getting in touch with the owners. They are super-busy, and getting on the phone with them is hard, but they see that the training would be quite positive. Some salons even tell me that they have seen signs of domestic violence in front of them, but they don’t know what to do. With the training, we want to empower them to be comfortable talking with their clients about their difficulties, and the stylists want to help.”
She sees the value of the program, as do others, and she wants her movement to grow. “I talk to anyone who will listen. I strongly believe in a grassroots movement.”
And she sees the program extending beyond hair stylists. She eventually wants to reach out to groceries, retail stores, and other places that people frequent. The more who are trained, the more who can potentially help.
But for now, her focus is on training as many salons in the area as she can. Two salons have been equipped with the tools, and three others, Absolute Salon and Spa of Butler, Great Clips in Cold Spring, and Zoe Grace Salon in Ft. Mitchell, are to be trained shortly.
Zumwalt is interested in finding other salons and, eventually, other public venues. Any salon owner who is interested in learning more about the program can contact Zumwalt at NVP@nku.edu. She would love to speak with you about the program and how it can equip you and your employees to make yet another positive impact on others.
And she sees the difference one contact can make. She is one person, and she sees the difference her training is making.
“Like they say, ‘No one can do everything, but everybody can do something.’”