How returning to work helped hair stylist recover from abusive relationship

The state of Illinois now requires hair stylists to take a training session to help clients who are victims of domestic abuse. It's a subject that stylist Jamie Feramisco knows all too well.
Hair stylist Jamie Feramisco shares a laugh with a client at Pin-Up Hair Studio in Quincy, Illinois. In January 2017, an Illinois law took effect that mandates training for stylists like Feramisco so they can support people affected by domestic violence. (Phil Carlson/The Quincy Herald-Whig)

Jamie Feramisco awoke early, at four or five a.m. Her boyfriend, who should have been next to her, was nowhere to be found.

"He had stayed up late, or woke up early, and went through my phone records," she said. He found a message she had sent to someone else, before they started dating, and he was angry.

"He said I was lying to him, I was a cheater. I believed him that it was inappropriate for me to talk to someone before we started dating. And that's insane."

That was their first fight, about "a month or two" into their relationship, Feramisco said. It went downhill from there.

Today, Feramisco works as a hair stylist in Quincy, Illinois, and it's been about two years since she got out of her abusive relationship.

For most of the time they were together, her boyfriend wouldn't allow her to work and would try to control her comings and goings, she said. It was only later, through her work as a cosmetologist, that she was able to find her confidence again.

Hair Stylist jamie Feramisco (Phil Carlson/The Quincy Herald-Whig)

The state of Illinois recently passed a law requiring hair stylists, barbers, cosmetologists and aestheticians to get a one-hour training session to help clients who are victims of domestic abuse. The new law is personal for Feramisco: while her relationship never became physically violent, it was emotionally and psychologically damaging, she said.

"He would say that I had to change for him to stay with me," she said. "He used financial situations, he used sexual situations, he used emotional situations to try to control, manipulate and have me do what he liked. But by the end of it, he didn't like me anymore because I was that girl."

When they finally did break up, Feramisco found herself jobless.

She had been to cosmetology school prior to the relationship, so she began searching for hourly work as a hair stylist. She struggled at first, but she found her footing and now works full time.

To her surprise, not only has her work helped her heal, but it lets her help others, too.

She's had clients come through her salon that were in abusive and dangerous situations who later escaped.

Feramisco gives full credit to her clients for their own perseverance, but she also acknowledges there's a role to be played by friends and supporters, including stylists like her.

The intimate physical nature of the job means cosmetologists can form close bonds with their clients and that can play a role in helping someone out of a dangerous situation. 

"Taking care of someone physically is a big task. It's a really big task, and sometimes people can't do that for themselves," she said. "Even just getting a shampoo can de-stress somebody who's going through a divorce... or their job is really stressful, or things are going awry in their life. They get a moment to be quiet and reflect, and tell someone what they want. And that's kind of a big deal."

To hear Jamie Feramisco tell her story in her own words, click Listen.