Naz Kupelian has been a hairstylist for nearly 30 years and said the clients who frequent his Lexington salon often share confidences. The one-on-one time also makes it easy for Kupelian to spot when something is wrong, as he did years ago when a client showed up with her fiancee.
"He sat right next to her,” Kupelian said, “holding her hand, and I thought it was odd and I thought it was a bit controlling.”
He didn’t know it then, but Kupelian was watching the beginning of an abusive relationship.
“I didn’t see the client for about maybe five months, and then when I saw her she told me that she had to get a restraining order,” Kupelian said.
That experience led Kupelian and his staff to take part in the “Cut it Out” training, a national program that teaches hair stylists and cosmetologists how to recognize signs of domestic abuse that are often hidden. The program was adopted by the Professional Beauty Association in 2003.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan has conducted the trainings since 2009. The classes are for professionals and cosmetology students. Ryan spoke with WGBH News after she conducted a training for a group of students at Keefe Technical High School in Framingham.
“Folks who are providing these kinds of personal services may see injuries that are unique, in many cases, to domestic violence,” Ryan said, “but that aren’t always visible to everybody else. For instance, those include things like missing clumps of hair, hair being missing at the nape of the neck or just over the ear. A lot of times there are strangulation marks, bruises at the base of the neck.”
State Rep. Christine Barber introduced a bill with Ryan last legislative session requiring all cosmetology license applicants undergo one hour of the “Cut it Out” training as a condition of obtaining a license. The bill didn’t make it through the entire legislative process. Barber will re-file the bill this session.
Statewide, there were more than 44,000 restraining orders issued in 2018, with 5,000 of them in Middlesex County. Ryan said many domestic violence victims never call police. The hope with this program is they will get help from their hairdresser.
“People tend to often have long-term relationships with their personal care providers,” Ryan said.
The training covers the signs of abuse and encourages stylists to offer clients resources for help. The information was eye-opening for Manoah Viana, a senior at Keefe Technical High school and an aspiring hair stylist.
“I feel like if you’re in that type of situation, it must be hard to contain your emotions,” Viana said after finishing the training. “I need to be on the lookout for that, because if they come and sit in my chair and they’re feeling very sad and it’s a repeated thing every time they come.”
Since Naz Kupelian attended the “Cut it Out” training, he keeps domestic violence brochures in his salon. Kupelian said he can now spot signs of abuse and would encourage a client to get help. That’s something Kupelian wished he could have done for the client years ago whom he now realizes was in trouble.
“I would have recognized it before, but I didn’t know that much about it," Kupelian said. "After the program, now I know."