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TESSA initiative teaches intervention in abusive situations 

The middle man

Like most hairdressers, Pam Feeney, 56, prides herself on her gift of gab.

So a recent client, who had come on a lunch hour to chop off her long hair, stood out. The 20-something seemed to erect a wall between them.

Silent though she was, her body told a story. Chunks of her hair had been ripped out by the roots, and scrapes and bruises spotted her scalp. She had applied makeup carefully to disguise a black eye.

Concerned, and not sure how to respond, Feeney delicately broached the subject. The wall between them fell.

"Five days ago," the woman bluntly told Feeney, "my husband decided to treat me like a ping-pong ball."

The woman explained that her husband was in jail, but could be bailed out at any time. She was seeking a divorce, but feared for her safety and that of her four young kids.

"I started shaking, and it was probably the worst haircut," Feeney remembers. "I felt so bad, because I wanted to give her the best haircut. This was the start of her new life. ... She was so determined and I was so proud of her, really, but I kept on thinking, 'Yeah, what if he gets out of jail?'"

Feeney was concerned enough to contact her supervisors, who put her in touch with TESSA, a local nonprofit aimed at ending domestic and sexual violence. TESSA has long trained salons in a national program called Cut It Out, which instructs hairdressers on how to recognize abuse and effectively help victims. TESSA was happy to do a training at Paul Mitchell free-of-charge.

In fact, TESSA leaders are hoping to generate more interest in Cut It Out, as well as in a different program that staff members recently designed, based on the same principles. Community of One differs in that it can be tailored to any group — whether the problem is rapes in the military or bullying in a high school.

TESSA isn't the first to think of expanding "bystander intervention" to a wider audience; an older model has been around for years. But TESSA found the older model was difficult to sell, so to speak, because it took four hours. Community of One can take as little as an hour, depending on the subjects addressed.

Michelle Schaunaman, TESSA's community outreach liaison, says the program is taught by a TESSA instructor who uses a PowerPoint presentation and videos created with the help of Leadership Pikes Peak students. Participants are taught "the three Ds" — direct, distract and delegate — in order to intervene without putting themselves in danger or alienating the victim. For instance, she says, if an abusive argument erupts in a restaurant, a person might drop a glass, creating a distraction.

Charity Richardson, TESSA's clinical program manager and one of the presenters, says the program has gone over well with schools and military groups, and that she's eager to schedule more classes around the community. She says students feel "empowered."

"If ... they're seeing something that causes that gut reaction," she says, "if they don't have a plan in place, most people freeze in that situation."

Feeney says she feels that was the case for her. (Her instructor actually jumped in to fix her client's haircut.) But now, she says, she's excited to help TESSA spread the word about its programs.

"I'm really passionate about this," she says.

stanley@csindy.com

  • The middle man

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