SAN ANTONIO - A salon can be a sacred place.
"If you think about it, in a salon, that's kind of a safe haven for women. You talk about everything - your husband, your children, family drama," said Ester Maldonado.
For Maldonado, a salon sparked an idea.
"I was getting my hair done in a salon and one of the cosmetologist came in and said this person is having domestic violence issues. She needs supplies. The cosmetologist gave her supplies and she walked out," she said. "I said 'excuse me, did that not bother anybody?'"
As a pastor, Maldonado began sharing the story and asking why no one offered to do more.
But it was a group of UTSA students turned her questions into answers.
"She said, 'you know maybe we need to develop a program,'" said UTSA professor Elizabeth Cruz.
Their project is called Unmasked - Beyond the Chair. Students are creating a curriculum to teach stylists how to spot the signs of domestic abuse. The class enlisted the help of stylists like Naomi Randall.
"It's a bigger problem than most people think," she said.
Victims, she says rarely speak of the abuse, but injuries tell her all she needs to know.
"Bruising, tenderness of the scalp. Always really conscious of their surroundings like if they're running from someone, like if they're fearful someone is going to come in," said Randall.
One in three women in Bexar County will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Students here believe help can come from anywhere. But those willing to listen need some guidance, too.
"There's a lot of stylists that don't want to get involved because they don't know what resources to use," said Randall.
"How do you react to that if a client tells you this is what's going on for me," said UTSA student Devon Bailey.
Students don't want stylists to feel pressured to be social workers, but stylists who see the abuse everyday say it's more pressure to not know how to help.
"Anyone would be highly affected when they don't come back in for an appointment because you didn't say something," said Randall.
The group is hosting a community forum in November to begin educating the public about the project. They're currently raising money to print all the teaching materials they need. To find out more about the project, visit the UTSA website.