Unprecedented Illinois law to teach stylists proper response to domestic violence

Hair stylist Jamie Feramisco shares a laugh with client Tom Koerker as she trims Koerker’s hair Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, at Pin-Up Hair Studio in Quincy. Beginning January 1, 2017, the law will mandate training for stylists like Feramisco on the proper response and support to offer to those affected by domestic violence. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson

By Matt Dutton

QUINCY — Illinois’ new legislation mandating the training of hairstylists in domestic violence support is the first of its kind in the nation.

While not mandatory reporters, all salon employees in the state will learn to provide support to domestic violence victims and respond to the situation. The law was passed as an amendment to the Barber, Cosmetology, Hair Braiding and Nail Technology Act of 1985. The amendment will take effect Jan. 1.

“We are in favor of it, not because we noticed any sort of issue with local stylists, but just to make sure everyone is getting the same information,” said Quanada Executive Director Megan Deusterhaus. “It’s a foot in the door, and we have to start somewhere.”

The legislation aligns with an already established push by the Professional Beauty Association known as the Cut It Out program.

“The salon is a safe place to go. People tell their stylists things they don’t even tell their family or friends,” said PBA Director of Charitable Programs Rachel Molepske. “We have gotten testimonials from people that said this program saved them. I’m glad more will be trained to spot the signs and symptoms of domestic violence and to respond appropriately.”

Pin-Up Hair Studio stylist Jamie Feramisco knows the toll domestic violence can take on every aspect of a person’s well-being. A survivor, she often hears accounts similar to her own in her salon. Feramisco now tries to support other women facing such circumstances.

“I’m a sound board for these girls that come in,” Feramisco said. “You almost kind of second guess yourself when you’re in the situation. You ask yourself if this is appropriate behavior, if this person is treating me the way I need to be treated.”

Hair dressers, Feramisco said, are on the front lines and see the impact of the issue. The close, personal nature of the industry, she said, helps break down barriers between client and stylist, encouraging customers to share more. She describes her customer base as a “clientele of friends.”

“What they tell you in school is, when you’re a hair dresser, you’re touching people first. I’ll start touching your hair before I really even start talking to you,” Feramisco said. “It’s really close. It’s one of the highest-touch industries, which creates a bond with your clients.”

While her client base consists primarily of men, the same ideas still apply, said Amy Barrett, owner of Amy’s on Broadway.

Quanada makes a point of emphasizing it serves both men and women, as both genders can be victims.

“You get to know your customers very well. You get to know about their lives,” Barrett said. “A lot of the time it’s just me and the customer in here, and sometimes they spill secrets.”

Once the state of Illinois has established curriculum, Feramisco plans to host a training session at the salon.

“The whole idea is to help hair dressers deal with disclosures. There is a right way and a wrong way to talk to someone. It can make or break the way a person handles their assault,” said Quanada Prevention Educator JJ Magliocco. “We are teaching them that they can make a difference. They don’t have to keep their mouth shut.”

Today, Feramisco tries to “live life in the moment with a lot of gratitude,” a message she hopes to pass on to clients who may be struggling.

“Education spreads positivity. Statistically, the more educated an area, the less violence,” Feramisco said. “We’re a community, and we need to lift each other up. I wanted to have a lot of women get together and kind of bond over it.”