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A new bill would train hairdressers to help clients experiencing domestic violence


Hairdressers, barbers, aestheticians - all can be privy to some of their clients' deepest secrets. And when it comes to domestic violence, they might be helpful. There is a bill aimed at providing them with training to recognize signs of abuse in their clients. Natasha Senjanovic reports.

NATASHA SENJANOVIC, BYLINE: Domestic violence hinges on controlling someone, on isolating them from support systems, and hair salons are among the few places many victims can visit alone.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH: The people who are cutting your hair are going to notice the bruises on your neck, are going to notice that you're tender around areas where perhaps you've been struck.

SENJANOVIC: That's Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth. She's co-sponsoring a new bipartisan Senate bill by Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn. It's based on laws that already exist in their states and one other. In Tennessee, for example, all beauty industry professionals must take free domestic abuse awareness training as part of their recertification process. Hairstylist Susanne Post was crucial in getting that law passed to help abuse survivors.

SUSANNE POST: We may be the person that is in the position to gently nudge them when it's time.

SENJANOVIC: Time to find an exit strategy. Post created the online training used in her state. It teaches to lend a compassionate ear but not push anyone to just leave. That, she says, could be fatal.

POST: It has to be the right time, and you can't force that for someone else.

SENJANOVIC: Instead, says Post, sprinkle your shop with flyers about victim services. At most, discreetly hand a client a hotline number. Post also consulted on the Senate bill. It would give a grant to states that make the training mandatory, and it also includes barbers. Statistically, at least 1 in 6 domestic violence victims in the U.S. are men who often find it hard to open up about abuse, says barber in training Tamiya Harding.

TAMIYA HARDING: I have been in situations where I had my male clients have scratches on their face and their neck, and maybe their eye is black. And I ask those questions like, well, what happened? How did you get this? And they'll begin to tell me their story.

SENJANOVIC: Harding is in Michigan, and her barber school includes this training as part of the curriculum. She says the biggest eye-opener for her was that domestic violence conversations don't have to come after serious injury or death, that prevention is possible.

HARDING: We only talk about it when something tragic happens. We never talk about it in a way to stop it from happening.

SENJANOVIC: It's unclear whether the new bill will get any traction in Congress. Meanwhile, Susanne Post's free online training is growing. She says more than 100,000 beauty industry professionals have taken it worldwide.

For NPR News, I'm Natasha Senjanovic. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Natasha Senjanovic