Salon Professionals go beyond beautification


By Elyse Samuels

According to a 2010 Center for Disease Control and Prevention Summary Report, “1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men experience violence by their partners in their lifetimes.”

That is why the Chicago City Council’s Public Safety Committee organized a hearing last fall introducing a new bill that will require training for salon professionals to identify signs of domestic abuse in customers.

“It’s important for everyone. Domestic violence surrounds us,” said Illinois state representative Fran Hurley (D-Chicago). “If it doesn’t affect you personally, it affects a sister, aunt, neighbor or cousin.”

Hurley joined 19th ward Ald. Matt O’Shea to spearhead a bill in the Illinois legislature that will assist salon professionals in helping to recognize signs of domestic abuse in customers. They were inspired after speaking with Kristie Paskvan, founder of Chicago Says No More, an organization committed to creating wide spread awareness about domestic violence.

Paskvan said she believes the best way to combat the problem at the start is through education and awareness.

“We have complete control over how we act towards other people,” Paskvan said, “We should be able to fix this. You don’t want everyone to be a bystander.”

Hairdressers, nail technicians and cosmetologists in general must renew their licenses every two years to continue their work. The new law would add one hour of required training in domestic violence intervention and amend the existing Barber, Cosmetology, Hair Braiding and Nail Technology Act of 1985. The act ensures all salon professionals are properly trained and qualified for their jobs.

The bill passed the House of Representatives with a 97 to 12 vote, and Hurley explained there was non-partisan support for the bill. Senator Bill Cunningham (D-18) is now responsible for sponsoring the bill in the senate.

Chicago Says No More is already drafting a version of the training curriculum and will teach their first classes at America’s Beauty Show, sponsored by Cosmetologists Chicago, in early March. At least 50,000 are expected at the event.

Domestic violence experts and many testimonies at the hearing explained that a hair or nail appointment might be one of the only opportunities where victims can speak about their experiences. There’s a unique privacy, comfort, and often there is trust in these relationships.

“If we save one life it’s a good bill,“ O’Shea said. “It’s empowering the cosmetology industry to make a difference to save lives to save families.”

Roberto Arce, owner and barber at The New Utuado Barber Shop in Humboldt Park, explained he often provides advice and support to his customers, including dealing with instances of domestic abuse and problems with drugs and alcohol. Yet, he feels the new law could add unnecessary pressure for barbers to inappropriately and invasively insert themselves into customers’ lives. He questions whether barbers should get involved with such personal and sensitive issues.

Utuado shop
Arce is Puerto Rican and proudly hangs his country’s flag on the wall of his store.

“I don’t think they should make the law,” Arce said. “The barber, we’re the best friend anyone can have. I give advice all the time, but in the end … it’s up to the person to change his life. I have to respect the privacy of my clients.”

Hurley clarified that the law won’t make it mandatory for salon professionals to report incidents of domestic abuse. Nor would these professionals act as counselors. The training equips salon employees with information and enables them to help potential victims get the assistance and support they need.

Unlike Arce, Angelica Drake, a cosmetologist at Twisted Scissors in Humboldt Park only has good things to say about the new bill.

Drake said, “I think it’s a really cool idea. People use their hairdresser as a therapist. People feel comfortable talking. I don’t know what I would say to people, so the training would be a really good thing.”

Sheila King is a board member of WINGS, a non-profit dedicated to providing support and services to victims in the fight to end domestic violence, is also involved in Chicago Says No More. She said 14 percent of organizations have formal programs for people who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault.

According to King, the program will increase that percentage of training and knowledge of resources. King also pointed out that salon professionals are great messengers in that their job is to make people look and feel good. Paskvan agreed, saying she thinks the bill moves cosmetologists one step closer to helping people.

“Every time I see a sexual assault or domestic violence situation in the news,” Paskvan said, “I think it’s so upsetting because I know that person most likely will be affected for the rest of their life. That means they won’t be able to self-actualize. I think everyone deserves that right to be the best they can be in life.”

Photo at top: Roberto Arce poses modestly in his salon, The New Utuado Barber Shop in Humboldt Park. (Elyse Samuels/MEDILL)