How can a cosmetology license save a life? In a first-of-its-kind program, a Rochester woman is helping victims of human trafficking on many levels.

Professionals say victims and survivors of human trafficking can often get caught in a revolving door of trying to escape their trafficker.

Now a social worker is wearing two hats, opening a beauty salon and combining the two professions to help survivors and at-risk victims of human trafficking.

“When you say human trafficking, sometimes people look at you like you have two heads,” said Julie Chapus, a licensed master social worker and director and founder of Miss Julie's School of Beauty. “And say, ‘That’s in Cambodia,’ or ‘That’s over in Thailand.’ What they’re not understanding is it’s right here in our own backyard.”

Case in point, the two people involved in the alleged abduction of a woman earlier this month at a hotel in Henrietta have now been indicted on sex trafficking charges by a grand jury.

Surveillance footage shows the scene. Police say the suspects forced the woman against her will out of the lobby and kidnapped her. She was later found safe.

"Trafficking is a $180 billion industry,” Chapus said. “Thirty billion dollars of that is right here in the USA.”

Miss Julie's School of Beauty is a startup, nonprofit cosmetology school based in Rochester designed to empower those at risk and survivors of human trafficking through vocational training.

“The thing is we are not just another cosmetology school,” Chapus said. “We are not a for-profit cos school where everybody and anybody can come to. We are a therapeutic support cosmetology school with a restorative aspect.” 

Grant funding will be used for the space in the Sibley Building in downtown Rochester, with the first three years of rent offered for free by property owners Winn Companies along with a boost from state Sen. Jeremy Cooney of $125,000 in funding.

“What we’re doing here under the leadership of Julie and her team is to change the game when it comes to how do we support and love and rehabilitate and empower those who have experienced one of the most horrific traumas?” Cooney said.

Chapus specifically chose the cosmetology industry to reach trafficking victims and help survivors.

“What I started to notice was traffickers use the cosmetology industry all the time from grooming to recruiting,” she said. “You know, they want this kind of sick twisted kind of relationship. [They say] ‘Let me take you to the salon, we’re going to get your hair and nails done.’ They’re trying to build some kind of bond right, to exploit of course. What they’re doing is they’re grooming you because they know in order to exploit you. The better you look, the more money you’re going to make. So then it becomes a requirement where you have to go get your hair done, you have to go get your nails done. And from there, let’s say a missing report comes out. Everybody’s looking at this image, this long beautiful brown-haired girl. Guess what, she just stepped into my salon and I gave her a short red pixie completely changing the image the nation’s looking for.”

Those in the program will be able to get their cosmetology licenses without any potential criminal records interfering, giving them a fresh start.

Unfortunately, there are so many victims that need help.

“I mean, we are fourth in the nation, and this isn’t just New York City, I’m talking about New York as a whole for having the fourth-highest number of sex trafficking cases," said Chapus.

Officials say the incidents are highly underreported.

For more information about Miss Julie’s School of Beauty, click here. For information on how to get help or to help someone else, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-7233. Or, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline Polaris Project at 888-373-7888, or text 233733 (Befree).

But, if you or someone else is in imminent danger, officials say don’t hesitate to call 911 immediately.