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Why Barbers Could Have A Role In Preventing Domestic Abuse

Sammy Caiola / Capital Public Radio

Brenna Meko curs hair at Salon Cuvee in Sacramento.

Sammy Caiola / Capital Public Radio

At Salon Cuvee in East Sacramento, Brenna Meko treats everyone like an old friend. As she runs her manicured fingers through a client’s hair, she strikes up conversation about a new movie, or a favorite book.

Meko has owned the salon for 20 years. She says she can tell when something is off with a regular. Maybe they’re quieter than usual, or they’re dodging certain questions.

“Sometimes somebody that’s a certain energy level and then all of a sudden they kind of hide in an over verbalization of an off-subject you don’t usually talk about, is to me a red flag,” Meko says.

But she doesn’t always know if she should step in.

“I try my hardest to find education to help people, because we do touch them on a stretch of 45 minutes to an hour, whatever," she says. "And if I can make a small difference in somebody’s life in a positive way, I’m going for it.”

A bill that just passed through the California Legislature — AB326 from Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas — would mandate sexual assault and domestic violence training for beauticians in California. The training would be given to aspiring salon professionals when they apply for a license.

People who are already licensed wouldn't have to take the training, but it would be available to them online.

Unlike doctors and teachers, stylists wouldn’t be legally required to take action if they suspected a bad situation.

Tami Guess is the project manager for the state board of barbering and cosmetology. She says it makes sense for stylists to keep their ears open, and to give information to people at risk.

“And that’s primarily because of the intimate nature between the professional and the client," Guess  says. "They may be able to recognize signs of physical abuse that go unnoticed by other onlookers.”

Domestic violence isn’t always visible on the skin. If a client talks about isolation, a controlling or jealous partner, or a verbal threat, those are all situations that a hairdresser can pick up on while lathering, snipping and buzzing.

“A lot of people are just picturing those physical injuries, but other types of abuse are much more common," says Beth Hassett, executive director of Sacramento domestic violence prevention group WEAVE. "Emotional abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse.”

Her organization already teaches local barbers and stylists about the warning signs. They also distribute resource cards for hairdressers to leave out.

She says state-mandated training is a logical next step.

“We would have a whole army of cosmetologists and hairdressers and barbers who understand domestic violence and know what to do when they see it, which could just change so many lives and keep people safe throughout the state.”

Back at Salon Cuvee, owner Brenna Meko says she tries to create a safe environment. The lights are warm, the music is soothing. And talking into the mirror, instead of face to face, can help put people at ease. 

For her, the job is about much more than just giving someone a new doo. It's about listening.

“I think that’s kind of the key to any situation of this magnitude - trying to listen," she says. "Make them feel, they’re heard.”

The training would need to be in place by July 2019.

If you are experiencing abuse, or know someone who is, contact these groups for help:

WEAVE: 916-920-2952

Tahoe SAFE Alliance800-736-1060

National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)

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