Page last updated at 03:59 GMT, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

'I hid my partner's violent abuse from everyone'

As the government pledges to tackle violence against women and girls, with schools playing a leading part, a woman who survived an abusive relationship - and a father whose daughter did not - say what they believe needs to change if future tragedies are to be averted.

DAVID SPARKS' DAUGHTER DEANNA WAS MURDERED

The man who murdered my daughter Deanna spiked her omelette with sleeping pills, beat her and then set fire to her flat in south London.

She had her 17-month-old son with her and he suffered severe burns.

But I'm pleased to say the baby pulled through and is now doing well.

Deanna's partner was jailed for a minimum of 23 years.

Deanna Sparks
Police said Deanna Sparks was "viciously attacked" by Stephen Singer

If Deanna had felt he was violent I don't think she would have told me. She'd have kept it to herself.

I'm totally against domestic violence and think action is long overdue. Previous governments haven't taken it seriously enough.

A lot of survivors of domestic abuse and violence never recover mentally. The rest of their family are also left in turmoil.

The new government proposals are certainly a step in the right direction.

Tougher sentencing

Girls need to be educated so that they know they don't have to put up with violence and that help is available.

I agree with what the government is planning and I also believe there should be tougher sentencing.

A man who beats a woman or girl shouldn't just get a slap on the wrist - he should go to prison for two, three or four years.

In the case of my daughter, the man who murdered her got life and I think life should mean life.

FIONA WAS IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

I was very young and immature when I met my partner. He quickly tried to control what I did, where I went and what I wore.

The abuse was initially emotional and verbal and he isolated me from my family and friends. When he became violent I thought it was my fault and that I was making him angry.

I had hidden the abuse from everyone. But I ended up in hospital with severe head injuries after a beating and the hospital called my boss in to get the office keys from me.

He was totally shocked. With the human resources department, he got me a job at the other end of the country.

So I was able to start a new life and the courts helped me to get a divorce without having to disclose my new address.

Everyone's business

I studied for an MBA and became a successful business woman.

Refuge wants people to speak out if they see or hear something. I remember running outside with blood running down my face and calling out to neighbours: "Get the police".

But they went back indoors. People feel it isn't their business. But it is everyone's business.

The government has made significant inroads by recognising that the problem is massive.

I welcome the idea of getting the message across in schools - and of intervening earlier to tackle stalking and harassment.

But there's still a long way to go. It is appalling that there are no services for domestic violence victims in some areas. The government should fund services in all areas.

It took me 18 years to be able to speak about what happened to me. If, by speaking out, I can change one person's life and help them to survive then that would be wonderful.



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