A New Illinois Law Requires Hairdressers Learn How To Identify Signs Of Domestic Violence

The bill’s sponsor says, ​’They're in a position to see something that may or may not be right.’

In a move that has proven polarizing across an industry, a new amendment to an Illinois state law will require hairstylists and others in the beauty industry to receive training on recognizing signs of domestic violence. The training will be rolled into other classes and topics that are necessary to achieve and maintain professional certification for barbers, cosmetologists, aestheticians, hair braiders and nail technicians. Its implementation will start on January 1, 2017.

Many of the people working in these fields serve as confidants and de facto therapists/venting outlets for their clients, putting them in a unique position to learn of instances of violence or abuse. The law recognizes the close relationships struck between stylists and clients, but will not require the professionals to report a crime should they see any amount of evidence suggesting abuse. Illinois is the first state to enact such a law, and it’s thought that similar programs could be on the horizon for other outwardly-facing professions, like bartending.

State Senator Bill Cunningham, a champion of the legislation, says that he jumped on board thanks to experiences his wife, who had worked as a stylist, had shared with him. He said to The New York Times:

“She told me stories about her clients providing details about terrible incidents. She offered a sympathetic ear. She was young at the time and did not know how to get them help.”

The bill was introduced by Chicago Says No More, a cause dedicated to domestic abuse awareness.

While few object to the intent of the law, some hairstylists object to the special responsibility they’re being asked to shoulder, claiming it’s just not what they signed up for, right or wrong. Analie Papageorge, a salon owner, says, “"You could make or break somebody's family. It's heavy on the heart."

Another stylist says the inspiration for the bill – the intimate relationship between a stylist and client – is the relic of a bygone era. "You do not have the in-depth relationship that we used to have. It's hard for me to believe that a client would report (domestic violence) to a junior stylist," he says.

Though the law may elicit mixed feelings from those affected, the state is home to 88,000 licensed beauty professionals, all of whom will receive at least a modicum of training in how to identify signs of abuse. Whether or not that translates to an increase in reporting or a significant deterrent remains to be seen.


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