Hairdressing and beauty therapy students will learn how to spot the signs of domestic abuse in a groundbreaking pilot project at Ayrshire College.
The college will next month host workshops developed and taught by charity Medics Against Violence, to teach students how to spot possible victims, as well as giving them the confidence to broach the issue.
Medics Against Violence already trains dentists, doctors and vets in similar workshops, and director Christine Goodall believes that hairdressing and beauty students are well placed to help victims.
"They are not a health profession but they are a really good group to train," she said. "The hairdresser may be one of only a few places that women might get to go to by themselves. Many also build long-term relationships with their hairdresser."
Dr Goodall said that many victims of physical violence were hit around the head and neck, so injuries could be spotted while applying a beauty treatment or washing and cutting someone's hair.
According to the charity, some 60,000 cases of domestic abuse were reported to Police Scotland in 2013-14 alone, and many more go unreported. Dealing with domestic abuse is estimated to cost the Scottish economy pound;2.3 billion a year.
As well as advice on how to spot the signs of domestic abuse, the workshops will give the students guidance on how and where to approach possible victims. "The most difficult thing is how to ask the question," Dr Goodall said. She pointed out that hairdressers, for example, needed to be aware of whether their conversation could be overheard by other customers.
Students will also get advice on how to refer victims to other agencies. "It is important that they do not get involved in the nitty-gritty of getting someone out of a relationship. That needs to be done by professional organisations," Dr Goodall said.
Two classes of about 20 students each will receive the training initially, but the college is hoping to embed the lessons into the curriculum. Dr Goodall also plans to roll out the scheme more widely, and claimed that its potential impact could not be overstated. "It could stop someone from being murdered," she said.
Marla Baird, equality and inclusion manager at Ayrshire College, who originally contacted Medics Against Violence, said: "It's a grim fact that one in four women will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime, and that many women don't feel able to tell anyone about this."
She said it was likely that students would encounter someone affected by domestic abuse in their professional life, and the workshops would prepare them for that situation.
But Lily Greenan, chief executive of Scottish Women's Aid, said it was important to stress that hairdressers and beauticians would not be expected to take action to solve situations themselves. "What they are being encouraged to do is to be willing to ask a question," she said.
Offering the training when the participants were still students was also beneficial, Ms Greenan added. "It is good to get people who are just doing their training, because it gets them thinking about the issue before they are even out on the job," she said.
Police Scotland's divisional commander for Ayrshire, chief superintendent Gillian MacDonald, told TESS that domestic abuse was a key priority for the force. "We encourage innovative approaches that can further our ability to help keep people safe and we welcome this pilot scheme at Ayrshire College.
"I have confidence that this programme will help to create environments in the heart of our communities where women can seek help and feel safe to speak up."