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Image Courtesy of Women AdvaNCe

2017 marked the introduction of a law that would require cosmetologists in the Chicago area to be educated in identifying potential victims of domestic violence.  The law mandates domestic violence and sexual assault training for professional salon employees, including hair stylists and nail technicians.  These professionals must renew their licenses every two years, and will now be required to undergo a one-time hour long training to successfully renew.  The law serves as an amendment to the existing Barber, Cosmetology, Hair Braiding and Nail Technology Act of 1985 and is sponsored by Illinois State Senator Bill Cunningham, along with state representative Fran Hurley.

Image courtesy of Get In Media
Image courtesy of Get In Media

Chicago Says No More, an organization designed to create awareness about domestic abuse, initially  fought for the institution of the new law.  Leaders of the group approached Hurley and Cunningham with their proposal in hopes that it would help with their mission.  Cosmetologists Chicago was later involved in drafting the language of the bill, chiming in on the specifics of the mandated training.  The final version was drafted in August 2016.  This version removed a provision regarding holding salon personnel civilly or criminally responsible for failing to report suspected abuse.  However, the main purpose of ensuring salon personnel would be more privy to the signs remained intact.  The bill required that these professionals also be given hand outs and other resources, such as safe house and abuse hotline numbers, to disburse to potential victims.  Under the new law, salon workers will also be able to pass along information to their patrons regarding filing restraining orders and obtaining an attorney.

The law puts salon employees on the front lines of preventing the abuse epidemic.  Domestic violence and sexual assault is grossly underreported and it is thought that victims are more likely to confide in their hair dressers before making the decision to involve law enforcement.  Victims often feel as if they are caught in a “Catch 22”.  They fear losing financial support from their abusers if they report, stability to their family lives, or worse—proper measures will not be taken to ensure their safety.  Candid stories, however, are often shared in the chairs, and patrons tend to view hair and nail gurus as personal friends.  Given the controlling circumstances domestic violence victims live silently with, many are left with just enough freedom and funds to get their hair and nails done periodically outside of the home.  These outings can, therefore, serve as the only opportunity to share their stories without the active ear of a captor.

Image Courtesy of Women AdvaNCe
Image Courtesy of Women AdvaNCe
 The skills developed by salon professionals to identify potential signs of abuse will go beyond noting the stereotypical black eye.  They will be trained, rather, to note the deeper, more complex and emotional messages of potential victims.  For example, stories of having limited tip money due to a need to hold on to funds, or worry that too drastic a change will anger a spouse may raise red flags.  The training discourages prying for information and focuses on having salon workers hone in on unsettling information offered.

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