BRISTOL, Tenn. — At Handcrafted Cuts Barbershop, like hair salons and barbershops across the region and nation, customers often develop long relationships with their stylists and freely discuss everything from politics to unfiltered complaints about their partners and bosses.
That’s true for customer John Knight, who, earlier this week, was at Handcrafted on the Volunteer Parkway in Bristol, Tennessee for a trim.
“You know, on the outside of these walls, a lot of people feel like they don’t have a place they can come and talk about certain issues, but you come to a barbershop, and you really feel like everybody is listening and not judging,” Knight said. “You already trust them (the barbers and stylists) to make you look good with a haircut; that same kind of trust ties into your personal life.”
It is because of this nonjudgmental atmosphere and the culture of trust between customers and cosmetology professionals that Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation that on Jan. 1 made it a requirement that all licensed cosmetologists, manicurists, hairstylists and barbers in the state take an anti-domestic violence awareness course. The course is designed to teach them how to identify signs of domestic violence, how to respond and where to send them for help and resources.
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Tennessee Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, explained the reasons why the law focuses on those in the cosmetology industry.
“Salon professionals, who typically create special relationships with their clients and hear about their clients’ personal lives, are in an ideal and unique position to identify physical signs of abuse,” Whitson said in a written statement. “The bill does not make salon professionals mandatory reporters and does not hold them civilly or criminally liable.”
Joshua Helms, owner of Joshua Helms Salon in downtown Bristol, said he is looking forward to the training and being able to serve his community better.
“It’s a great thing that we can take part in, helping and just being a part of supporting our community, especially when it comes to domestic violence and keeping people safe,” Helms said. “It’s a good opportunity for other people who are in that situation to have someone to talk to.”
Clayton Harlow, who works as a barber at Handcrafted Cuts Barbershop, said he believes in the role of the barbershop as a safe space for customers to go and have meaningful conversations. He added that he’s glad this course will give him and his fellow barbers the necessary training and information.
“A barbershop or a salon is one of those places where you can get away from everything else you have going on in your life; it’s a good place to reach out to people and to have a support network in case you need it,” Harlow said. “(With this course) if someone was in that situation (domestic abuse), I will be able to do something about it, I will actually have the knowledge to identify the situation and to see what I can do to help.”
Andi Mullin, owner of Reflection’s Salon on Broad Street in Bristol, Tennessee, hopes the new responsibility is a chance for beauty industry professionals to show people what being a hairstylist is all about.
“Already, we don’t get the acknowledgment that we maybe should for our experience and our professionalism. To add this responsibility, I just think, you know, maybe it will open people’s eyes up to what this job actually is. We’re not just playing with people’s hair,” Mullin said.
On the other hand, Lelia Matney, owner of Salon Remington in downtown Bristol, said she is concerned that this added responsibility could drive away clients who value private relationships they have with their hairstylists. She is also worried that this responsibility takes the job of hairstylist into a completely different area.
“We probably would be good people to realize that that’s going on. But the problem is, are we going to be the narcs of domestic violence? Because the things they tell us are personal, and they might want (that) kept private,” Matney said. “I don’t find our business one that that would suit as far as messing our business up, you know, that could mess with our livelihood, and I’m not trying to say that I’m a mean enough person to not care, because we would care, but that’s a lot to ask for someone who does hair. … Having to be the judge and jury or hold court over domestic violence makes no sense to me.”
According to a news release from the state Legislature, cosmetology professionals with a current license in Tennessee must take the anti-domestic violence training course, which is provided at no cost by the state, between 2022 and 2024. Students at cosmetology schools across the state will have to complete the anti-domestic violence course to receive their licenses. Instructors at these schools are also required to take the course.
A training course has been put together by the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee in association with Barbicide as part of the Shear Haven initiative. Those interested can take the course online at www.barbicide.com/shearhavendomesticviolencetraining/.
The 20-minute training session is followed by a short quiz. Those who take the training will receive a certificate of achievement.