Imagine this: It’s another day at the salon and you have a new client on your books. She comes in mid- afternoon and sits in your chair. She looks young (lucky her) and has brought her boyfriend along. “He sure has a lot of opinions on her hair,” you think to yourself.
As the appointment goes on you notice she’s not very talkative and he likes to stay close. You may notice a tattoo along her neck that says “Daddy” and makes you internally roll your eyes. You finish her cut and color, he pays and off they go. “Well, that was a little weird” is your last thought before going on about the rest of your busy day.
There’s a good chance you just witnessed a victim trapped in the human trafficking world and prepared her for whatever her “boyfriend,” aka trafficker/pimp, wanted to use her for. It’s a stomach turning thought but one that is becoming more and more of a reality within the beauty industry. So often when we think of human trafficking in this industry we think of labor trafficking in a third world country removed from our home life. But the promise of a better life, only to be so deeply indebted that they are forced to work for free and live in far less than ideal conditions, happens right here, far more often than we realize.
The reality is the beauty industry, first hand, sees an ugly, often not spoken of side of human trafficking known as sex trafficking. Victims being promised a better life, offered gifts such as hair, makeup, nails, purses, clothes, are then coerced into performing favors to pay off those debts. Sometimes those “gifts” continue well into their time being trafficked to keep up an appearance and this is where the beauty industry crosses paths with helpless victims.
Trafficking victims are between 12-14 years old when they are brought into the sex trade and are already vulnerable youth, often runaways, foster children, or coming from broken homes. It doesn’t look like a movie, it isn’t often a kidnapping situation; it’s hurting children and women looking for a better life who are lured in, unknowingly, and then are manipulated with threats, bondage, and other methods.
So what can a stylist in a small town do that will impact the lives of those caught up in a vicious and seemingly inescapable life? As cosmetologists, we are in a unique position where we may be in direct contact with victims. I spoke with several of our local organizations that are directly involved with victims of human trafficking in our area and they shared how we can help to identify, report, and even be a part of a restoration process. Here’s what they had to say.
Oasis House, Gracehaven, and She Has A Name all agreed on one key factor in how we can help: Get educated. Here in Ohio, stylists are required to take a course on human trafficking in order to keep our license. But this isn’t the case for all states, and state education only gives you the basic statistics. Education can literally save a life. It can be as simple as going to the Polaris website and reading, or googling your local resources and ask them to come to train you on how to identify victims. In person training was highly encouraged and the more you know, the more you can help.
What are a few signs that someone may be trafficked?
- Inconsistent stories
- Unsure of their whereabouts
- Branding (tattoos, often with a males name or “daddy”)
- Lack of eye contact
- Nervous behavior, withdrawn
Gracehaven works with minors who have been caught in the trafficking world, and I also had the opportunity to speak with a survivor who is now working with Gracehaven. They recommended having a plan at your salon in case you do witness something. A safe word is a great idea to instantly put the others in your salon on alert. Have the hotline and local non-emergency line programmed into your phone. Your tip can be anonymous. Because it can be so difficult to know if you are in contact with a victim, if your gut says something is off, send in a tip. The more they are receiving in an area the more they are able to build a case.
We are also in the unique position that we can separate a victim from their trafficker. If you notice the trafficker is hanging around a little too close, saying “I am sorry but the only person able to be on the service floor is the client due to the amount of chemicals/sharp tools/hot tools, etc.” If the suspected trafficker seems unusually upset about this, and the client looks nervous, this can be a red flag. Also it gives you the opportunity to speak directly with the client. Asking a casual “are you okay?” can change everything for them.
Sometimes a victim may not even realize they are a victim. Traffickers are sneaky and manipulative and create guilt in the victims so that they may think everything is okay and normal. A trafficker can be a family member, boyfriend, or close family friend. This can make determining if the client is in fact in a bad situation very difficult. Again, going with your gut and having the education needed is where you can decide if this is a situation that needs to be called in.
Another agreed-on point was in addition to general education, being trauma informed can give stylists a very special perspective. Learning how to meet people where they are and not become a trigger point. Trauma education will give you the skills to assess your situation even better, understand thought processes, and know how to word phrases to speak to the victim. Becoming a superhero stylist, basically.
She Has A Name supports women who had been in that world for a long time and are becoming readjusted to the world around them. They pointed out how salons can be a bad place for these women to go back into as it can bring back flashbacks to what they were forced into. Again, this is where trauma education is important. Become a safe salon by going through not only general human trafficking and trauma training but also creating true relationships with the organizations around you. After going through training, reach out to your local organizations and explain to them that you have undergone training and are creating a space that is less likely to be a trigger point or make it known that you are willing to go to them.
These women don’t feel beautiful and don’t know how to feel beautiful after living their life being used and abused for so long. Something as simple as volunteering to give haircuts, show them how to curl their hair, put on makeup, or help them get ready for a job interview could be a huge deal to them. Ask your local organizations what their specific needs are and provide what you can.
The beauty industry has a very rare and close look into the human trafficking world. We have opportunities that many others may never get. From the girl in your chair being trafficked to those who have been able to escape that world, we are able to firsthand help save and rebuild lives. As I heard at Gracehaven, you can get educated and help save a life or sit and watch it all go by and wonder why the world is the way it is.
National Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888
Text: 33733 (text HELP or INFO)
Haley Garber @beautybyhaleygarber is a member of the MODERN SALON Artist Connective, a stylist in Ohio specializing in special occasion styling, bridal, updos and creative color. She is also passionate about bringing awareness to this important topic.