‘Nothing like it’: Rochester Beauty school opening for survivors of human trafficking

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A beauty school coming to Rochester will be unlike any other in the country. 

Miss Julie’s Beauty Salon was created five years ago with a mission in mind: help local women who have been affected by sexual exploitation. 

Now, that cosmetology program is in the works.

The Miss Julie’s Beauty School program will be for survivors of human trafficking. Owner Julie Chapus said there is nothing like this program in the U.S. and the need for it is huge.

“I did not realize how big of an issue human trafficking is right here in Rochester. There’s over 10 programs that exist just to help traffic survivors right here alone in our city,” said Julie Chapus, the Founder of Miss Julie’s School of Beauty.  “It is a need. There’s nothing like it in the entire nation.”

Chapus went to cosmetology school five years ago with a plan in mind to start this program.

“I felt strongly that I need to walk through steps that I’m going to be encouraging other girls to walk through, I shouldn’t just open something and not know what I’m doing,” Chapus said. 

Chapus wants her beauty program to be an opportunity for women to start over. She said currently, many survivors of human trafficking have a hard time getting a job. 

“Background checks are a major thing and you take a girl that’s been on the street for any length of time, I can guarantee you she’s been picked up for prostitution, or she’s been picked up for drug possession,” Chapus said. 

“When I’ve been talking to some of the survivors, I actually had one girl tell me that she did not want to go to a job interview, because she knew that her record was going to come up. She knew what questions they were going to ask. And she just didn’t have it in her to even go through the past again.”

However, Julie’s program will provide some relief for many victims. A New York State-granted cosmetology license removes the necessity of a background check by employers. 

“For me knowing and understanding that we’re eliminating that 100%, it’s amazing. I mean, for me to be able to sit down and tell a girl, you don’t need to bring it up. You don’t need to tell them you’ve been trafficked,” Chapus said. “They don’t need to talk about it. It doesn’t need to go anywhere, they get that license after our program, they go out and get a job. They never have to mention being trafficked unless they choose to or want to.”

“I really just want to see them broken out of the bondage that they’re stuck in, I want to see that cycle just over for them.”

The program will be free of charge for survivors. Chapus is teaming up with organizations like Brightstar Community, a free, two-year residential program for trafficking survivors. 

“The women live there while they’re receiving services through partners that we have throughout the community. In that time, they’re really focusing on connecting with their authentic true selves, working on the trauma, which are the core issues that led them down the path that they took,” said Sue Kirby, the Founder and Executive Director of Brightstar Community.  

Once the women go through the services provided by Brightstar, they can then go on to the cosmetology program. Chapus said it’s important there is a program after treatment or therapy for survivors to get involved in. 

“What what’s available to them right now is safe places to live and therapy and help and that’s all great and well, but then it’s kind of like, what’s next. And that’s where the next step is completely lacking. There’s, there’s hardly anything at all,” she said. 

Kirby, who works closely with many survivors, said she believes this program will be very beneficial, especially because it can lead women to job opportunities. 

“Just to be able to take care of myself and not have to worry about relying on someone else to take care of me. I think that that’s a real important thing for women who have been been controlled for so long,” Kirby said. 

Kirby said human trafficking affects victims and they often come to her program with shame and low self-worth. She believes Miss Julie’s Beauty School could change that. 

“This offers such an opportunity for women, that once they start to reconnect with that authentic self and to love themselves, and to see their own beauty, many of them want to be able to give that beauty back and to help others feel that joy in looking in the mirror and going, Wow, I look amazing,” she said. 

The program is expected to launch in the next year. Chapus hopes 20-30 women can join a program at a time. While survivors will be given a full-ride scholarship, she also will have spots for others who may just like the cause and be interested in taking the program. 

“It allows me to put them on partial scholarship where we can knock off a little bit of tuition. So now we have an anonymous model where all of our girls are on a scholarship in our school. So nobody knows who’s been trafficked, who hasn’t, our instructors don’t even have this information” she said. 

While some in the program many be interested in getting a job after doing hair, makeup, or nails, there are many other options as well. 

“This is an opportunity for them to get into all different areas, whether it’s in sales, whether it’s in development, I mean marketing, there’s just so many avenues that they could go down with this one license,” Kirby said. 

Kirby said she’s already heard from survivors who are excited for the program. 

“I think that that’s what helps them to feel the love of the community is to know that these opportunities are being given to them, these are gifts, and it’s just up to them to accept the gifts and to feel their worth and feel that they’re worth these gifts,” she said. 

Currently, the beauty school is looking for a bigger location and more donations. 

To help fundraise money, Chapus is hosting a red carpet event on November 5th where all proceeds will benefit the school. 

To purchase tickets or donate, click here. 

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