Advocates Want Salon Workers To Get Training In Spotting Domestic Abuse

CHICAGO (CBS) — The front line in the fight against domestic abuse could be hair stylists.

At a City Council committee hearing today, prosecutors and domestic violence experts campaigned for hair stylists, cosmetologists, and nail technicians to go through mandatory training to spot signs of abuse, and help victims.

When women sit in that hair chair, a unique bond is created between them and their stylist. The City Council heard from sponsors of a resolution today that aims to capitalize on that bond for the safety of women in abusive relationships.

“There’s a confessional door that closes when you sit in the chair,” said Marek Hartwig, owner of Marek Bridal Styling.

Hartwig, a 25-year veteran of the industry, said his clients feel like they can tell him anything, and now he’s one of thousands of hair stylists in Illinois who could use their stylist/client bond to become an integral part in the war to stop domestic violence.

“There’s a trust, and they tell things more to a stylist than they tell probably anybody else, because it’s a no judge zone,” Hartwig said.

He and his peers could soon be required to take a one-hour training class before the next time their licenses come up for renewal.

“I completely agree with it,” Hartwig said.

Legislation is being pursued in Springfield to make this a statewide initiative to help in the fight against violence.

“There has to be a vocabulary, or a script for us to follow. We can’t overreact when we see something,” Hartwig said. “I think there’s a better chance that they’re going to be able to seek out the help, or to discuss it, and stop the cycle, if they are going through some kind of abuse.”

Kristie Paskvan, founder of Chicago Says No More has taken the lead in a campaign to recruit the help of salon workers statewide, and hopes to have state legislation in place next year.

“We think there’s a possibility that the beautician may see signs of abuse,” she said.

Cook County State’s Attorney State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says victims might open up about their situations in the safety of the beauty salon. She spoke before the City Council Committee on Public Safety on Monday.

“We know how difficult it is for victims to come forward for many reasons so the encouragement needs to be there and that’s one of the importance of this bill is that again in a safe environment a woman is maybe more apt to speak up, answer questions in the salon as opposed to going into that police station.

The mandated training would be privately funded by non-profit groups like Paskvan’s.

“We’re not looking for them to intervene. We’re looking for them only to provide guidance and give out information to their clients,” she said.

Paskvan said she hopes full City Council support will send a message to Springfield about the importance of a state law.

Already, 36 aldermen are behind it.

“Oftentimes there is a bond and whether it’s a client sitting in a chair opening up about what’s going on at home or possibly if a stylist were to notice physically there is something wrong,” said 19th Ward Alderman Matthew O’Shea. “We’re asking them to step up.”

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Wednesday and it could go into effect as early as this spring.

Paskvan said House Bill 4264 would make sure to not hold any salon worker or salon business liable for their involvement in a domestic violence case.

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