We all know the uniquely intimate relationship hairdressers and clients share. Often likened to a bartender and his patron or thought of as that of accidental therapist and patient, nothing can quite mimic the opportunities hairdressers and clients have to really get to know each other when trapped in (and next to) a chair together for hours with some developing colour or treatment. We often joke about this connection, or speak about it anecdotally, but a new rule in Illinois, USA, which came into effect on the first day of this year, is recognising that it can save lives.

A serious, attractive young woman hair stylist with unique style (tattoos, piercings, platinum hair, leopard skin clothing) uses hairspray to complete a client’s hairstyle – a trendy, braided updo for high school formal (graduation). Salon in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The state rule comes as an amendment to a law that governs the US cosmetology industry, requiring salon workers to take one hour of training every two years in order to identify signs of abuse and assault, and providing them with a list of resources through which they can refer their clients for help if necessary. Without this training, hairdressers and beauticians in the state will not be able to renew their license.

As hairdressers have shared concerns over any liability they may face within this new rule, the final version of the law specifies that hairdressers aren’t required to act on their suspicions. The training just gives hairdressers the tools and resources to try and help in any way they feel is warranted.

The law understands the salon’s pivotal role as a safe space for many women, where they feel comfortable and often confide in their stylists as an objective sounding board. The rule makes use of this environment without putting pressure on the hairdresser to act in any way they don’t feel comfortable.

Statistics cite that one in three women (in both Australian and American studies) experience physical violence in their lifetime, one in four Australian women experience emotional abuse at the hands of a partner and one in five Australian women experience sexual violence. This rule clearly not only has requirement overseas, but closer to home too.

Although there is no similar legislation in Australia at the moment and the Illinois rule is the first of its kind in the US, it does point to a positive change in the way lawmakers, activists, civilians and, yes, stylists, perceive and respond to domestic violence. Working from this new precedent, Australian hairdressing community members and officials, such as Hair and Beauty Industry Association CEO Sandra Campitelli, are now lobbying lawmakers to introduce a similar initiative or at least basic training for stylists on the matter.

In creating the law, activists and lawmakers identified case studies in Illinois that point to subtle ways hairdressers can identify a problem. Kristie Paskvan, founder of Chicago Says No More, told the New York Times of an episode where an abused woman inexplicably asked her stylists to cut her hair very short, taking this out of character move to wrestle back one area of control in her life.

Searching for unique instances like this, as well as obvious physical scars and personal insights in conversation, hairdressers can make a real difference to their clients’ lives. However the program also stresses that the client must take the lead on disclosing these elements of their lives, without the hairdresser going out of their way to interfere.

If anything – it’s a reminder to listen a little closer to what our clients are really saying, and another great example of just how significant the relationship between hairdressers and clients can be.

Weigh in: would you like to see legislation or, at the very least, education akin to this rule introduced in Australia?