Memphis beauty industry professionals learn to cut out domestic violence

“Why me?," Mozelle Seymore thought, as a client she just met began to tell her story.

It's not that she wasn't sympathetic, it was just a lot to take in from a stranger, especially without proper training on how to respond. 

Seymore is a hair stylist and makeup artist. 

It was the client's first appointment. A counselor called a few days before to set it up. Without giving details, the counselor simply asked Seymore to make the young woman feel beautiful.

Seymore was in the middle of working her magic when the young woman revealed she was a sex trafficking survivor.

Though caught off guard, Seymore understood the significance of the moment.

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After five years in the industry, her clients have shared a lot and she's seen a lot more.

So when Seymore saw a Facebook post for the first Memphis CUT IT OUT: Salon Professionals Helping to Prevent Violence workshop this past September, she made the trip from Jonesboro, Arkansas to Memphis.

Seymore hoped the class could equip her to help herself and any future victims she encounters in her chair feel comfortable sharing their stories of misuse and abuse.

The bimonthly, two-hour classes are facilitated by the Shelby County Crime Victims and Rape Crisis Center.

They're intended to educate local beauty industry professionals — stylists, barbers, nail technicians and makeup artists — on the signs of domestic violence, human trafficking and other abuses among both clients and co-workers.

In addition, attendees learn about local and national support systems for victims and how to navigate conversations without causing more harm.

“If you don’t know what to say, this class offers resources,” said Felica Richard, the crisis center's community engagement supervisor.

The next Memphis CUT IT OUT class is November 25.

Who's the victim here?

According to the Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County, domestic violence accounts for 56% of all violent crime in the city. Memphis sees roughly 50,000 domestic violence-related calls to 911 each year.

Women accounted for just over 71% of domestic violence victims. Unmarried couples are more likely to experience domestic violence, but it's important to note that any relationship, regardless of structure or circumstance, has the potential for abuse.

Violence in the household, regardless of the intended target, affects the entire family.

In Memphis, 25,000 children are exposed to domestic each year. Household violence is considered an adverse childhood experience or ACE, which can lead to trauma responses in children ranging from mental health and behavioral issues to learning delays.

Household violence is also cyclical.

While not all children who witness or experience abuse become abusers, the Family Safety Center notes that 70% of violent adults do come from violent homes. Up to 80% of incarcerated people experienced household abuse as children.

It takes adult victims of domestic violence, on average, seven attempts and returns before they leave their abusers for good. Unfortunately, many don't make it out. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nationally, over half of female homicide victims are killed by intimate partners. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported 98 domestic violence-related murders statewide in 2018. 

The Shelby County Crime Victims and Rape Crisis Center is using training materials from the national CUT IT OUT program to train Mid-South beauty industry professionals to identify signs of domestic violence among clients. (Memphis CUT IT OUT).


In the first Memphis CUT IT OUT class, instructors detailed the unique opportunities beauty professionals have to spot physical signs of abuse, such as bruising or cuts around the hairline, scalp and upper body, bald spots indicating hair has been torn out or a client stating what a partner will allow them to do with their hair and make-up.

There are also less obvious signs, such as unusual payment methods or at inability to keep appointments.

Phillis Lewis, vice president of the Memphis/Shelby County Domestic and Sexual Violence Council, explained that when stylists suspect abuse, appropriate timing and tactful phrasing are essential in addressing the issue.

“You are not in a position to counsel your client,” she said during the September 23rd class.

Lewis and other facilitators advised attendees to instead focus on communicating concern for the client’s safety and making the person aware of their options, rather than giving advice on what they should do.

Memphis has multiple options for victim support including: the Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County, YWCA of Greater Memphis, Kindred Place, CasaLuz and Memphis Area Legal Services.

Victims and allies can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Related: 'CasaLuz fights domestic violence, supports Spanish-speaking victims in Memphis'

Like Seymore, Kelly Carpenter attended the seminar to learn how to navigate conversations with clients or anyone else who may need help.

“You want to help someone, but you don’t want to salt the wound,” said Carpenter, a licensed cosmetologist who works at Fantastic Sams in Midtown.

“We as hairdressers are physically closer to victims more than anyone other than the abusers,” she said.

In her nine-year career in the beauty industry, Carpenter said she has seen her clients try to hide signs of abuse, like caking on heavy makeup to cover bruises.

By the end of the class, Carpenter said she'd learned “better ways to approach it without feeling like you’re pushing yourself on someone.”

CUT IT OUT, Memphis

The crisis center hosted the inaugural Memphis CUT IT OUT class on September 23 at Methodist Le Bonheur Community Outreach.

Previously, the classes were only available online. 

Richard’s team first began discussing ideas for an in-person domestic violence education course for beauty professionals in early 2019, but the murder of 32-year-old LaTarica Stripling in April deeply affected the team and moved them more quickly from planning to action.

Stripling owned Threads Hair Salon in Hickory Hill. 

According to police and witnesses present, Stripling's estranged husband, Michael McKinnie, fatally shot Stripling outside of a Downtown Memphis apartment complex in front of her two daughters, ages eight and three. Stripling had previously filed a complaint with police in 2017 after she claimed McKinnie threatened to kill her then choked her to unconsciousness. 

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The crisis center adapted training resources from the Professional Beauty Association's national online curriculum to create the local class.

CUT IT OUT started as a statewide program in Alabama created by The Women's Fund of Greater Birmingham and the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The National Cosmetology Association then expanded the initiative to other states and founded the national CUT IT OUT: Salons Against Domestic Abuse in 2004 before merging with PBA in 2010.

“We are definitely utilizing the national CUT IT OUT program and updating it to make it more relevant for Memphis,” said Sandy Bromley, the crisis center's deputy administrator.

Read more articles by Brandi Hunter.

Brandi Hunter is a native Memphian and freelance content creator. She writes and podcasts about Memphis, faith and entrepreneurship for local and national publications, and leads a creative media assistance studio based in Memphis.
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