D.C. Council members Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large) introduced legislation in April requiring barbers and cosmetologists obtaining and renewing their licenses in the District to undergo training that would help them recognize signs of domestic violence and sexual assault in their customers and connect them with resources.
Five months later, after a council recess and vigorous discussion around tipped workers’ wages, amplified noise in public areas, evictions, and a bevy of other issues, this bill, one of a few of its kind to materialize nationwide in the #MeToo era, has lied dormant under committee review, with no plans currently in place to schedule a public hearing about the law.
“This is a great bill that could make a big difference. Given the significance of the ‘Me Too’ movement and the importance of addressing domestic violence, the bill hasn’t received as much attention as I think it deserves,” said Joshua Fleitman, Todd’s director of communications.
“A lot of women will share personal life experiences with barbers and cosmetologists and for that reason, they are in an excellent position to notice signs of domestic violence,” he added.
If the bill passes, touted as the Barber and Cosmetologist Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Training Amendment Act of 2018, the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants in Northwest would host the hourlong domestic violence and sexual assault prevention for barbers and cosmetologists seeking licensure in the District.
Since April, the D.C. Council Committee on Business and Economic Development, chaired by Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), has had the bill, with the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, chaired by Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), providing comments.
Council member Todd’s office hopes the D.C. Council moves forward with the legislation before the end of the council period on December 28. However, as has been told by a member of McDuffie’s office, the Barber and Cosmetologist Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Training Amendment Act of 2018 is still under committee review.
Fleitman says time is of the essence.
“Council member Todd thought having those professionals take a course on awareness would give them tools to identify victims and encourage them to report it to police, seek help from nonprofit services, counselors, friends, and families to let them know they have a community of support,” he said.
In recent months, the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault have been greatly discussed, especially in light of the confirmation of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, himself accused of sexual assault. Last week, protesters railed against that controversial turn of events.
In September, women and men marched on the National Mall against domestic violence and sexual assault on two occasions.
The first gathering in the earlier part of the month took place on the one-year anniversary of an assault on Capitol Heights woman Andrea Grinage, during which her boyfriend allegedly set the then seven-month pregnant woman on fire.
On September 28, the Black Women’s Blueprint, the D.C. Rape Crisis Center in Northeast, and other organizations hosted the March for Black Women in efforts to pressure lawmakers to renew the Violence Against Women Act and reverse the Trump Administration’s restriction on certain words.
The Real First Responders: Barbers, Stylists
One in four women and one out of seven men have reported instances of intimate partner violence, according to data collected by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
A recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research revealed that four out of 10 women said they have experienced intimate partner violence, including humiliation, insults and coercive control.
In 90 percent of sexual assault cases against Black women, survivors knew their assailant.
Community activist QueenAfi, whose daughter died after being shot in the head by her boyfriend in 2016, extolled Council member Todd and Bonds’ legislation, calling it a way of equipping professionals who share intimate experiences with women and men with the tools needed to curb domestic violence.
“Barbers and cosmetologists are the first responders, before the police and justice system gets involved,” said QueenAfi, founder of Domestic Violence Wear Many Tags, a Southeast-based community organization celebrating its 10th year this month.
She said she will host a domestic violence training for staff at Unicorn Trap Hairdressers in Temple Hills, Maryland on October 28.
QueenAfi recounted learning of instances when abusive partners used the threat of violence to dictate the hairstyle they wanted for their partner. For her, that phenomenon alone makes barbers and hairdressers the quintessential source of information about domestic violence and sexual assault resources.
“It’s a good idea to get them trained on domestic violence,” QueenAfi said. “It’s the best approach for that client. Hairdressers should know the current resources they could provide for the clients getting in that chair. They can’t provide solutions, but they can give direction to solutions. That in itself could make a huge difference in the domestic violence epidemic.”
Fred Spry, a licensed barber in the process of opening his own shop in Northeast or Uptown, said that discussion around domestic violence often pops up between him and his clients at the barbershop, a venue he likened to a country club for Black men.
“Guys might be going to court. They say drinking might have been involved, or she might have done something to provoke it,” said Spry, a Montgomery County resident who has cut hair for more than 20 years and says he supports the legislation.
“There’s always a common experience with the brothers and Hispanics. I would give my opinion and tell them not to put their hands on women. It’ll impact you negatively with restraining orders, charges and probation. The courts can’t take domestic violence as a joke,” said Spry, 41.
D.C. lawmakers gained inspiration for the Barber and Cosmetologist Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Training Amendment Act of 2018 from a similar law enacted in Illinois that mandated domestic violence prevention training for beauty professionals, part of 14 hours of instruction required of cosmetologists and barbers every two years by the state.
One District-based hairstylist, who decided to remain anonymous, had a different take on Todd and Bonds’ bill, saying the training would put hair salon employees in a serious predicament.
The Prince George’s County-based professional, deterred from registering in the District by what she described as exorbitant fees, said the process will threaten the careers of some cosmetologists.
“Clients talk about a lot of personal things, but I’m not sure if we’re getting paid that much money to be psychiatrists,” she said.
“That’s a gray area that we shouldn’t delve into as hairdressers. You’re never supposed to put your personal view in those situations. I try to stay neutral when topics that are violent, offensive, and emotional come up. Those are very sensitive topics that shouldn’t be addressed by cosmetologists.”