JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A new Tennessee law requires those working in the field of cosmetology to take training to help identify signs of domestic abuse.

As of Jan. 1, barbers, hairstylists, nail technicians, estheticians — anyone in the cosmetology field — has to take at least one hour of domestic abuse training in order to obtain a license to practice the profession. The training is free.

Starr Bradley is the director of the Johnson City/Washington County Family Justice Center. Before moving back to Johnson City, she owned and operated a salon in Chattanooga for 16 years.

“This is the only place victims can go sometimes without their abuser, and so once they’re sitting in your chair there, you build that relationship, you can talk,” Bradley said.

Starr Bradley

She explained that she changed careers to help people but when she was a stylist, she didn’t really know where to turn.

“At the time, when I was in Chattanooga, I wasn’t working in this field and domestic violence. So when they’re telling me the things that they’re going through, I didn’t know where to send them. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Now, she’s advocating for those most vulnerable through the Family Justice Center by providing a safe location to help domestic and sexual violence victims and their families in the Johnson City and Washington County area.

Part of helping cosmetologists identify signs of abuse has been offering classes for students at Crown Cutz Academy run by Craig Charles in Johnson City and Bristol, Virginia.

“We learn some statistics. And we’ll be learning a lot of times people think domestic violence is just hitting just physical hitting. It’s not, it’s intimidation is stalking, it is emotional abuse, financial abuse,” Bradley explained.

Now that it’s law in Tennessee, she said the classes will simply become mandatory. Something that Crown Cutz owner Craig Charles is all for.

Craig Charles

“We’ve been training as it is in the school anyway, we have a curriculum that we have to go by and a mandate is just adding it to the curriculum,” Charles said. “I think it’s amazing any type of domestic violence, mental health awareness, all those things go hand in hand and we can look out for community one step at a time. I think that’s a major step.”

The law also lists that the training will help cosmetologists identify the signs of domestic abuse, physical or otherwise.

Ketmanee Whitlock owns Edify Salon in Johnson City. She opened her doors in March 2020 but has been a hairstylist for years. She told News Channel 11 she’s excited to help facilitate the classes.

“We need to learn how to identify signs to help domestic violence victims become domestic violence and survivors,” Whitlock said.

Edify Salon will be hosting a training on Feb. 7 at 10 a.m. at the salon located at 300 E. Main Street.

Ketmanee Whitlock

“I am sure that it is definitely going to be helpful,” Whitlock said. “As a community, we have the amazing ability to become very closely intertwined with our clients: We have them in the chair for several hours at a time and we start to learn about them, they start to learn about us, it’s very much a relationship type of business. And in doing so, we might gain some confidence and some trust in our clientele, that they might share things with us. They also might not share things with us and we will see signs that are outside of a verbal situation. The training will teach us to look for those things.”

All three told News Channel 11 there have been times when they have identified signs of abuse and felt they lacked the knowledge to help.

“My time as being a barber, I mean, I probably had like a million conversations and the million conversations I’ve had, if I could have just one time just say ‘hey, call this number,'” Charles said. “That would be great to help someone just this kind of ease the tension, whatever stress they’re going through.”

Bradley said she’s had similar experiences.

“I’ve had several customers over the years who were experiencing those things,” she said.

Whitlock explained that through personal experience within her family, she’s learned the hard way to deal with domestic violence and said that she is grateful for the new law.

“Personally, I do have some experience with domestic violence — my sister having an abuser many years ago and how it affected my family — so this topic is very near and dear to my heart,” Whitlock said.

She gave an example that sometimes abusers accompany victims to the salon and “hover,” oftentimes dictating what services the salon worker should give to the victims.

“Those are all small, minuscule little signs that equal something very large,” Whitlock said. “So do I feel like me personally, would I be able to help? I think so. Do I feel like as a community we would be able to help? Absolutely. But ultimately, I do also feel like it is the victim needing the strength and the support and sometimes they don’t know they have that within us. And that’s important too. They need to have the ability to say ‘I’ve had enough’ or ‘I need resources.’ And if we can help provide a link to resources, that will be very helpful.”

It’s advocating for the most vulnerable populations that is important to Charles.

“Using barbers and stylists to kind of get the word across. Understand that we’re not specialists, we’re not therapists but we can be advocates for our clients coming in,” he explained.

If you need more information about the online class offered through the state, CLICK HERE.

For resources through the Family Justice Center, call 423-722-3720 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. or call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 423-926-7233.