Illinois trains hairstylists to help abuse victims

Starting in January cosmetologists in Illinois have had to take an hourlong class on domestic violence as part of their licensing requirements, thanks to a groundbreaking new program, which capitalizes on the close relationships most women have with their hairstylists.

The program, a cooperative effort between Illinois lawmakers and domestic abuse and sexual assault outreach organization Chicago Says No More, teaches prospective stylists to recognize the signs of possible domestic abuse or sexual assault, and trains stylists to direct potential victims to professionals who might provide help.

“So, first of all hair salon professionals are a nurturing group anyway, and so having them be part of this is just a natural thing,” explained Kristie Paskvan, founder of Chicago Says No More.

“Plus, because their relationship is long term and ongoing, they probably know things about their clients that they normally wouldn’t know about some other stranger that they meet.

“And so, it has been a really good match because as a general rule they provide a safe place for people to open up about problems that they normally wouldn’t talk about,” she said.

Cosmetology students are trained to recognize subtle signs that might indicate a problem—a sudden change in demeanor, a reluctance to put on a robe at a spa, or tales of repeated insults from a spouse could signal an unhealthy and even dangerous relationship.

“A lot of time people are afraid to come forth because there is victim blaming—because people don’t believe them,” Kristie Paskvan said. “A lot of time people don’t believe individuals unless they have bruises and scars, and that is not the only type of abuse that happens.”

The cosmetologists are taught not to blame or criticize the victims, but to listen, and direct clients to a support organization.

“We build relationships with our clients,” said cosmetologist Lisa Hernandez. “We get to know them, know a lot about them, know a lot about their families, and they confide a lot of their personal information in us. We don’t judge, we are just there to make them feel beautiful.”

The Illinois program is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

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