Georgia lawmakers introduce bill to help combat domestic, sexual violence

Georgia lawmakers introduce bill to help combat domestic, sexual violence

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Today, we’re looking into a bill sponsored by a local lawmaker in Georgia would add a new focus to continuing education programs from barbers and cosmetologists to get them into the fight against domestic violence.

In Chatham County alone last year, the number of domestic violence homicides doubled from the year before from 4 in 2018 to 8 in 2019, according to Safe Shelter.

Across Georgia, there were more than 60 domestic violence-related deaths.

House Bill 727, called the Domestic Violence Helping Hands Act, aims to take advantage of the sometimes close relationships barbers and cosmetologists form with their clients, equipping the stylists with training to help them recognize signs of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

“We get to know them, ask them questions, where they’re from, how long they’ve been here...” said Eleanor Sapp, owner of Bella’s Classic Cuts off Abercorn. Sapp said there have been occasions in the past where she’s suspected something was off with clients...and offered help.

Sapp said, “I have good, loyal clients...new clients come in all the time. And...you can tell.”

“Everybody watching this can identify. You’re sitting in the chair...your hair is important to you, you know? And if somebody gets you and they know how to cut your hair, you stick with them. And you’ve got to do something while they cut your hair or they’re coloring it. So you talk,” explained Safe Shelter Executive Director Cheryl Branch. Branch has already been championing the effort for years locally of educating hair and nail salon owners and barbers about detecting signs of domestic violence, an effort called Stand in Style.

She applauds the state leaders for wanting to take that educational process a step further.

“I hope to goodness it makes it to the finish line, and I would love to see other states follow suit,” said Branch.

The bill advanced to House second readers last Tuesday, and we’ll track its progress throughout the legislative session.

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