Mexico City (AFP), April 27 – After Mexican mother Carmen Sanchez left her abusive ex-partner, he attacked her with acid, leaving her badly scarred. As part of her healing process, she is now helping other victims to rebuild their lives.
In the eight years since her life changed forever, the 37-year-old has undergone 61 operations, including skin reconstruction and grafts.
“Every day I endure it, but I don’t know if I will recover completely at some point,” said Sanchez, who wears dark glasses to cover the traces of the attack.
“It was no accident. I wasn’t born that way. He planned it, went to buy the acid and threw it at me. When I look in the mirror, I see it,” she said.
Her Carmen Sanchez Foundation – launched in 2021 to “end acid violence” – believes camaraderie and friendship are crucial for victims.
He faces challenges such as managing a public health system that only guarantees limited treatment for victims, and a justice system plagued by impunity and inefficiency, Sanchez said.
Gender-based violence is a major problem in Mexico, which recorded around 3,750 murders of women in 2021, of which around 1,000 were classified as femicide.
The foundation has documented 31 acid attacks on women since 2001, six of which have died.
Delinquency is on the rise, with seven cases in 2021, compared to two on average in previous years, according to the collective, whose objective is that the victims find a certain joie de vivre.
“Times of leisure, celebrating important dates, going out to eat or just talking on the phone are a fundamental part of what can keep them on their feet,” said co-chair Ximena Canseco.
– ‘Remember forever’ –
Sanchez, who has two daughters, exposed her abusive ex-partner three times but escaped punishment and doused her face with acid in 2014 after she left him.
“He told me he was going to do something for me that I would remember forever,” she said.
Sanchez spent eight months in a public hospital, after which she relied on private doctors who treat victims for free.
At the public hospital, “they told me I could live with my scars” and “be grateful that I survived,” she said.
After the police failed to arrest her ex-partner, Sanchez tracked him down herself and he was eventually captured in 2021.
“I did all the work,” she said.
Yazmin, 34, is one of eight women the Carmen Sanchez Foundation is helping to get free medical care, legal advice and psychological therapy.
A year and a half ago, as she was leaving work, a woman threw liquid on her, leaving her in agony.
Yazmin lost an ear and suffered burns to his eyelids, neck, legs and arm.
She suspects her attacker was sent by her ex-partner.
“A few days before, we had a fight on the phone and he told me to be careful because he had a little surprise for me,” said the woman, who declined to give her full name.
– ‘A global problem’ –
Yazmin kept quiet about her abusive relationship for years before the attack, but now she feels liberated thanks to the foundation.
“We are not judged. They don’t say, ‘They did it to you for a reason.’ You feel protected. I thought I was the only one, but found out it’s a global problem,” Yazmin said.
Among other countries affected, hundreds of acid attacks are reported each year in India, though, as in Mexico, experts fear these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Colombia, where the crime is punishable by 50 years in prison, recorded 50 cases in 2021, 28 of them against women, according to official figures.
Britain has one of the world’s highest rates of recorded acid attacks per capita – with most apparently gang-related and targeting men, according to the charity Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI ).
Martha Avila, 63, calls herself a “collateral victim” of acid violence in Mexico.
In March 2017, she was assaulted by her daughter’s Argentinian ex-husband.
“He came to attack her, but since he couldn’t find her, he came to get me. He said he was going to “destroy what she loved the most,” she said.
Despite burning nearly half of her body, Avila is glad she was the victim, not her daughter.
“I couldn’t imagine what it’s like to have your life destroyed so young, let alone being the father of your children,” she said.