As a teenager Julie Tweedale was the victim of a sexual assault – an event that today, 22 years later, is re-shaping her life. She is one of the founders of a social enterprise that teaches women and children how to protect themselves. HILARIE STELFOX reports
JULIE TWEEDALE knows what it is to feel helpless and defenceless.
At the age of 18, during a gap year travelling abroad, she was attacked and sexually assaulted.
“I was in Germany when it happened. I went to the police, but nothing was done about it,” she says.
Even now, many years later, the 40-year-old mother-of-two is reluctant to talk about the incident. But she has, finally, been able to move on thanks to a change of career.
Julie, from Slaithwaite, has formed a partnership with close friend and former colleague Elaine Howard, who lives in Manchester, to bring personal safety courses to women and children. Their aim is to establish a network of instructors across the UK.
The seeds of the enterprise were sewn back in 2006, when Julie attended a self- defence session organised by the Soroptimist International of Huddersfield organisation for International Women’s Day.
Julie said: “I decided that it was time to learn how to defend myself. It really increased my confidence. And afterwards I wanted to do more. I saw it as an opportunity to get past what had happened and take the control back.”
As a library consultant for the British Council, advising on family learning, Julie had a job that took her all over the world, involving travel as far afield as Vietnam, Thailand, Uganda and Egypt.
She was based in Manchester, so even when not travelling she had a lengthy daily commute from Huddersfield. Her business partner Elaine also worked for the British Council.
“I really enjoyed my job, but I had to be away from home quite a lot. After I had my first daughter Ciara, who is now five, I realised it wasn’t the sort of job that’s good for family life,” she explained.
She also has a two-year-old, Louisa.
Julie and Elaine, who has three young children, decided they were serious about setting up a personal safety enterprise. So serious, in fact, that they were prepared to fly to Troy, Alabama, to take an instructor’s course with the American organisation Rape Aggression Defence (RAD) Systems.
On their return they applied for voluntary redundancy and set up Freedom Personal Safety.
Julie said: “We are the only two people outside North America who have been on the training course.”
So far the women have acquired funding from a number of organisations who support social enterprises, including UnLtd, Community Champions and Grassroots Grants. They have also been helped by local groups such as Community Spirit in Slaithwaite and Meltham Crossroads.