A 28-year-old Nashville-based salon owner and hairstylist, Post, 48, says beauty professionals have a special relationship with their clients, one that creates space for non-judgmental conversations. With regular cuts and colors as well as special services for milestone events like engagements and weddings, stylists “see people going through the seasons from a bird’s eye view,” Post said. “Because of this, we are also in a unique position to see things like domestic violence.”
Thanks to Post’s advocacy work with her local YWCA, the state’s largest domestic violence service provider, Tennessee lawmakers passed a law last year requiring all licensed beauty professionals to receive training. to identify and respond to clients who may be experiencing domestic violence. The state is the latest to pass such legislation, which went into effect in January. Others, including Illinois, Arkansas and Washington, have already done so.
And Post — initially determined to educate hairdressers in her area — has become the face of a global movement.
More than one in four women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, global study finds
In 2017, nearly a decade after that conversation with her therapist, Post had rebuilt her life with a successful business and a happy family when she came across an article about Illinois law, which mandated home education. domestic violence for licensed hairdressers.
“It almost gave me chills,” she said. “I felt pushed to get involved.”
At that time, she knew the statistics: 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. Tennessee ranked fifth for the US state with the highest rate of females murdered by males.
Post knew about the work of his local YWCA through clients and friends. She had attended fundraisers and educational events over the years, wondering what more she could do. After learning about the Illinois program, she contacted their team and they agreed that they needed to create a similar program.
The organization was looking for someone to connect them with the beauty industry and translate domestic violence training to their world, according to Michelle Mowery Johnson, senior director of communications and advocacy at YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee.
“Susanne was amazing because she brought that personal story as a survivor but also as a stylist behind the chair,” Mowery Johnson said. “We had all the domestic violence expertise and education that we have done in the community for over 40 years, but she was the person who could help us get into the beauty industry.”
In October 2017, they launched Shear Haven. For the initiative, Post traveled salon to salon with a YWCA educator, who explained the basics of how abusers take power and control away from survivors, the signs of domestic violence, and how to respond in a salon. They also gave stylists the resources they needed to refer clients to local resources.
After receiving positive feedback from dozens of participants, Post said she knew it had to be more than a local initiative. She and her team began reaching out to state lawmakers in hopes of passing a law similar to Illinois’.
In January 2020, they reached out to state Rep. Sam Whitson (R) to pitch their idea for the bill. He agreed to take it on, with state Rep. GA Hardaway (D) as co-sponsor. “They came up with this concept: let’s educate these people on what to look for so they have the means to help people seek help and assistance,” Whitson said. “Legislation is just one way of tackling the scourge of domestic violence, and it’s really smart because hairdressers build relationships with their customers so they can see changes in behavior and appearance.”
However, as they met with legislators and committees, one hurdle continued to emerge: they wanted education to be free and available online.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and the bill was put on hold. “It was so disappointing,” Post said.
That spring, rates of domestic violence around the world jumped during the shutdowns. In April, after the implementation of stay-at-home orders, calls to the YWCA hotline increased by more than 50%.
The pandemic has caused a global surge in domestic violence. For victims who have few options, violence has become the new norm.
To reopen her salon safely, Post was one of tens of thousands of hairstylists who took online sanitizer training from Barbicide, a salon supply company. As Post watched the video, she realized this might be the partner she was looking for: a security-focused company with an online platform already up and running.
Post reached out to Leslie Roste, national director of education for Barbicide, and she immediately agreed to collaborate — with one caveat. The video could not be restricted to residents of Tennessee. Barbicide served a global community, and Roste wanted the training to be available to anyone who wanted it, regardless of location or connection to the beauty industry, she said.
Together, the YWCA team and Roste revised the video and added resources for survivors around the world from the United Nations.
In October 2020, they launched a 20-minute training video with a short quiz and certificate that anyone could earn and post in their workspace or on social media.
According to Roste, more than 40,000 people had completed the training by January 2021. By then, Post and his team were ready to resubmit their plan to lawmakers. They wanted to require up to one hour of domestic violence training for every hairstylist, barber, cosmetologist, esthetician, nail technician and natural hair braider who is licensed to work or attend school in the state.
The law was passed with bipartisan support. As of January 1, stylists have four years to complete the training, while aspiring beauty professionals will do so as part of their educational requirements.
Along with information on resources and hotlines, the training guides stylists through the nature of domestic violence and the cycle of abuse. Stylists learn to look for potential red flags: a client whose partner always accompanies them to appointments or schedules their visits; bruising or hair loss; a client’s reluctance to change hair color or style for fear of going against their partner’s wishes.
“This legislation will absolutely help survivors of domestic violence,” said Kiersten Stewart, director of public policy and advocacy for Futures Without Violence. “It’s always good when there are more people in the community to help out. And frankly, there are probably some stylists who can be survivors, so it can be empowering for them as well.
The training is clear: it is not a hairdresser’s job to act as a domestic violence counselor or advocate, but to direct someone to local experts and resources when is ready. Leaflets with information and a bathroom hotline number can also act as a lifeline without a stylist saying a word.
For those working in other industries who might be interested in domestic violence education for their staff, Stewart recommends visiting Workplaces Respond, a national resource center for employers, survivors and co-workers.
Looking ahead, Post wants to keep the momentum going. She is working with the YWCA’s Amend Together initiative and Nashville Police Chief John Drake to design a program for barbers to help men talk about healthy masculinity and support those who may be perpetrators, survivors or witnesses.
“Barbershop conversations can be not only informative, but also persuasive and impactful,” Drake said. “Encouraging barbers to help educate their clients about domestic violence and the warning signs is another critical step for our community to further improve the safety of women and girls.”
Post said it was amazing how people around the world responded to this training.
“I’m so grateful,” she said. “The more we can educate the public about this issue, the better.”