"I am not a domestic abuse victim, I am a survivor" - Sunderland mum speaks out and urges women to check out their partner's history with Clare's Law
‘I am not a domestic violence victim, I’m a survivor’ a Sunderland woman has said as she hopes to promote Clare’s Law.
Six months ago Debra Wright was forced to flee her home after she was brutally attacked by her abusive ex.
Battered and bruised the 54-year-old escaped and started the daunting process of rebuilding her life, with the support of Sunderland organisations.
Now the mum-of-five says she’s a ‘completely different person’ and is speaking out to encourage other men and women to use Clare’s Law to uncover their partners potentially hidden pasts.
‘I’ve been accused of being a liar’
Her former partner was sentenced after appearing in court and admitting attacking Debra.
But even after the sentencing, Debra says people have come up to her in the street and accused her of ‘making it up’ adding that they refuse to believe the charges were ever made.
Debra said: “Part of the reason I want to do the work with Women In Need and Clare’s Law is because he has told everybody that it hasn’t happened.
“I’ve been accused of being a liar and that hurts more than what I’ve been through. People have come up to me in the street and told me I made it all up. It’s six months since it happened and I’m the one still suffering now.
“I want to speak out to show that I’m no victim – I hate that word. I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.
“No matter what you’ve been through there is help at every turn.
“People think I must be a man hater because I’ve said I’m going to campaign for Clare’s Law. I’m not at all, I just believe men or women who have been through a violent relationship or are concerned have the right to find out about their partner or potential partner’s past.”
So what is Clare’s Law?
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme - known as Clare's Law – was set up in 2014 to let people find out from police if their partner has a history of domestic violence.
It is known as Clare’s Law after 36-year-old Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.
The domestic violence disclosure scheme is free and always 100% confidential.
Debra says moving forward she would always use Clare’s Law and says her two daughters as well as friends and relatives say they’d use it too if they were ever getting into a new relationship.
She said: “I want women to be aware that perpetrators are very easily slipped under the net.
“Anyone can say it’s just sour grapes but when you can see it in black and white, which is what Clare’s Law will provide, it’s hard to ignore.
“Even if you’ve been a victim in the past and you’re wary you can do it. It isn’t a hard thing to look into it. Friends or relatives that may be concerned to can submit a request too. It’s a free service and you really have nothing to lose.
“You don’t have to tell your potential partner and if they had nothing to hide it wouldn’t be a concern for them.”
What services are available to men and women in an abusive relationship?
Debra says she had to flee and received total support from organisations like Wearside Women In Need and Gentoo – which has its own domestic violence scheme.
Debra said: “I had total support – which a lot of women, and men, don’t know is out there.
“Sometimes you just wanted to crawl under a stone and not talk to anybody but they really helped me through it.
“There’s a lot of people out there that are willing to help you. You just have to ask.
“I found it really hard to open up to people, I just didn’t want to talk or admit what I had gone through.
“Six months on I’m a completely different person.”
What can Wearside Women In Need do to help?
Debra is no longer a client of Wearside Women In Need (WWiN) and is working towards volunteering to help other people suffering with violence in a relationship.
Established in 1983, WWiN provides accessible community-based services to women and children at risk of, or suffering, abuse.
The organisation is part of a national network of providers working together to ensure safe spaces for families in need. This means we accept referrals from across Wearside, but also women and children who need to escape to safety away from their local area.
Domestic abuse affects 1 in 4 women in their lifetime.
A 24-hour helpline is available on 0800 066 5555 to offer offer confidential, non-judgemental support and information to women experiencing domestic abuse and their friends and families.
What can Gentoo do?
As a housing association, Gentoo offers support and advice, work with government, voluntary and other organisations to give support and react quickly and effectively to ensure a person’s safety.
Michelle Meldrum, Executive Director (Operations) at Gentoo said: “Our front-line staff are ideally placed to spot the signs of domestic abuse in our communities. They have undertaken specialist training to help them spot the signs of domestic abuse and report it safely.
“We also have a number of workplace champions who provide a range of support measures for staff who are experiencing domestic violence, referring them to appropriate specialist support services.
“Protecting victims and their families is a priority for us and our aim is to make our communities a safer place to live”.
*In an earlier version of this story published on Saturday, August 3 we reported that Ralph Richardson, 53, of Sunderland had pleaded guilty to one count of assault by beating and one count of criminal damage at South Tyneside Magistrates Court in March 2019. We are happy to clarify that Mr Richardson pleaded guilty to one count of section 39 common assault by beating and one count of criminal damage. He was found not guilty to one count of assault by beating.
He was sentenced to a 12 month community order, ordered to carry out 25 days rehabilitation activity requirement, 80 hours of unpaid work, ordered to pay compensation of £250, costs of £85 and an £85 victim surcharge.
A two-year restraining order was also issued.
Richardson is also subject to a two-year pub ban order which is in place for all premises in Sunderland until May 1, 2021.