Brian Sims
Editor

North East start-up SILA Training tackles scourge of sexual violence

AN ACADEMIC who has harboured a passion for Human Rights since childhood is now in the process of launching and establishing a new venture that aims to suppress male-initiated sexual violence by way of e-Learning. The learning programme itself is the brainchild of Prof Dr Chaditsa Poulatova, a lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts.

In conversation with Security Matters, Dr Poulatova explained: “I developed a passion for women’s rights and children’s rights from some of the stories I read as a child concerning vulnerable women and children who suffered exploitation.” As a result of reading these accounts and, indeed, her own early life experiences, Poulatova shunned her family’s tradition of following a path into the world of medicine and instead focused on a career route into academia and the field of Human Rights.

Across the years, Poulatova earned a PhD in International Politics and Human Rights along with an LLM in International Law and Relations and an MSc in Security and Risk Management, all of which have recently been backed up with the addition of an MBA in Management and Leadership.

Poulatova observed: “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been determined to make a change around the rights of women and children, not to mention the notions of security as a discipline. The subjects of leadership and management have inspired me as they empower change. Through the Sexual Intimidation Learning Academy (SILA), I can realise that change.”

As stated, SILA Training is currently being established as an e-Learning business and training consultancy that encourages men to take a leading role in suppressing sexual violence and harassment.

In order to do that, however, males themselves really do need to understand the problem. On that note, when faced with sexual harassment at a professional conference, Poulatova was surprised by the apathy of the men present. “Any one of the men there could have ended the blatant sexual harassment being aimed at me, but out of the four bystanders in the group, one actually defended the perpetrator’s actions by blaming alcohol. Another remarked: ‘What’s your problem? Most women would be flattered’. That’s when I understood that men need to stand up to other men in order to put a stop to sexual violence and harassment.”

Delivering justice

According to the Government, the current law on sexual harassment is not delivering justice for women, with significant under-reporting a feature of women’s experiences coupled with a lack of employer action and fewer cases making it to the Employment Tribunal stage.

So far, the burden of trying to end sexual violence in society has fallen on the shoulders of females themselves, in addition to charitable organisations and social enterprises who support the survivors of such criminality. “Although laudable in its own right,” outlined Poulatova, “teaching women self-preservation misses the point entirely.”

SILA Training actively aims to change the current status quo and, in a determined bid to do so, is targeting its initial focus on the workplace.

Currently, much of the guidance on sexual harassment in the workplace doesn’t reduce the risk as its focus is really all about limiting employer liability. “This simply isn’t good enough,” asserted Poulatova. “Businesses have both a moral and a legal obligation to provide their members of staff with a safe working environment. By tackling sexual harassment at work, organisations can proactively play their part in changing our culture and society for the better.”

Cross-functional team

Across the last 12 months, and with support from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership as well as assistance from Northumbria University’s Business School, SILA Training has been quietly working with a cross-functional team to fashion a proactive response that addresses the societal and cultural change needed to suppress what Poulatova rightly references as the “appalling” increase in the levels of violence and sexual harassment perpetrated against women in the UK.

SILA’s evidence-based training programmes use the latest online training and microlearning techniques to solicit male support, all the while challenging men’s perceptions and actively engaging them to think about their actions (and the consequences of those actions). SILA’s training aims to empower men to take forward the narrative and dialogue necessary for delivering the required cultural change to increase respect towards women and, in turn, protect them.

SILA Training’s micro-learning courses deliberately expose the hypocrisies and raise awareness of the problem. They cover topics such as the myths surrounding masculinity, how to tell the difference between banter and harassment and the true cost of sexual harassment. Importantly, there’s also Best Practice guidance on intervention techniques.

Only recently, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services called for the police service to prioritise tackling violence and aggression against women. While Dr Poulatova recognises that men need to change their attitudes towards women, there’s also a recognition that such a process inevitably takes time.

“Personal transformations don’t happen overnight,” said Poulatova. “Change is a long-term process that needs fostering. SILA Training can provide the learning tools needed to foster this change.”

Independent report

An independent report commissioned by SILA Training suggests that targeting the leisure, retail and higher education verticals could produce positive results when it comes to reducing sexual violence or harassment.

Such a venture would not be without risk, though. “Focusing on men is a complex and contentious subject that will likely cause a negative backlash from some quarters,” observed Poulatova. With this truism very firmly in mind, SILA Training is seeking to form an Advisory Board of professionals from the security and policing sectors, as well as relevant support sectors and the victims of aggression and violence, in order to offset any potential resentment.

According to Poulatova, however, that’s just the beginning. “As more men and women speak out against inequality and more females gain leadership positions across industry and commerce, there’s a very great potential for us to remodel the SILA Training business such that it becomes a social enterprise. An enterprise dedicated to creating a new generation of leaders determined to eradicate the imbalance of power between the sexes.”

SILA Training has already received expressions of interest from the police service and Police and Crime Commissioners. In conclusion, Poulatova told Security Matters: “As an adopted Geordie, I really want the North East to pave the way for national change and help to create a society that supports and embraces women as equals.”

*Further information is available online at www.sila.training

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