Women, identity loss and acid attacks

Most acid attacks towards women use the face as a target as a way to erase their identity and make their interpersonal relationships harder. 

Women covering her face.

Women covering her face. / Photo: Pixabay

LatinAmerican Post | Ana María Betancourt

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Leer en español: Mujeres, pérdida de identidad y ataques de ácido.

In the ranking of countries with most acid attacks, Colombia is fifth according to NGO Acid Survivors Trust International. The Natalia Ponce de León Foundation has also said that in the lapse between September of 2016 and September 2019, 96 attacks in the country had happened. The places with more attacks were Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, Huila, and Bogotá. This is evidence of the huge problem of violence against women in Colombia. 

Acid attacks usually try to disfigure women´s faces in order to leave them with several scars in their skin and tissues as a strategy to make it harder for them to find a couple or even be socially accepted. For this reason, most of these attacks have the face, the neck, and the chest as targets, as it is mentioned in the National Surveillance in Public Health System (SIVIGILA). 

Most acid attacks survivors are women who need to deal with losing a huge part of their identity: the face. That´s why they think that this kind of violence is not trying to kill the victim, but to make her suffer with the lost of her physical features and beauty. 

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Patricia Espitia, a survivor of chemical weapon attacks in the country, says that these attacks are linked with the idea of eliminating the other´s history. "All violence against women is cruel and ruthless, but I think that chemical aggressions surpass all kinds of violence because these substances are something that goes directly to the face. This is violence that was born because of the patriarchy and machismo. The only thing that they want is to harm your personal image. Our faces are unique, this is how they eliminate each woman's beauty".

On the other hand, Angie, a Bogotan survivor of the same kind of violence, recognizes that violence against herself was motivated by causing harm to her eye's beauty. "In my story I know that there were two reasons for my aggression: my physical beauty, and to harm my eyes in order to leave me blind". She never knew who was her aggressor, but she has some suspects, and they all have the same motive in common: to harm her and her family. 

Once a woman loses her facial features, the ones that made her different from other people, recovering them is impossible. "Usually they have high expectations about plastic surgery, but it is so difficult. It is possible to have good and satisfying results, but the patient is never satisfied with the scars", said Ricardo Sastoque, plastic surgeon of the Burn Care Unity of the Simon Bolivar Hospital.

The identity and story of a lot of women are dramatically transformed after these events since they have to undergo multiple surgeries, abandon their jobs, start a self-acceptance process, and all their interpersonal relationships change. Despite the magnitude of this problematic, acid attacks keep happening in Colombia, and their impunity is high (77% of the cases go unpunished, according to Natalia Ponce, a survivor of these attacks, and an activist for attacked women´s rights). So, what does Colombia need to do to stop this kind of violence?

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