‘I say to myself, why live?’ Victims of Colombian acid attacks speak out as number of horrific assaults is on the rise
By NINA GOLGOWSKI
Doused in a searing chemical; disabled and scarred for life; struck by a depression which can make it hard to go on – the plight of Colombia’s acid attack victims is truly heartbreaking.
And the number of these horrific assaults is on the rise.
At least 250 Colombian women have been disfigured in the last three years, with this year’s victim reports already outpacing 2011’s.
The figures have drawn comparison with countries like Pakistan or Bangladesh, countries more notorious for these attacks – as many as 150 Pakistani women are attacked every day, according to the BBC.
Yet in Colombia, whose population is nearly four times smaller than Pakistan’s, the attacks are believed more prominent and experts believe there are far more victims out there than reported.
‘We know of many cases that were never reported because of threats, because of fear,’ 28-year-old acid victim Viviana Hernandez told the BBC.
Ms Hernandez was attacked five years ago, leaving burn marks down her face, chest and hands, while also taking away the eyesight in her left eye.
She believes it was her former husband who carried out the attack after she refused to get back together with him.
He didn’t throw the acid himself, she said, but hired the attackers.
‘The aim is to harm, not to kill. And to harm somebody for the rest of her life,’ she said.
Like Ms Hernandez, many are believed victimized by former lovers or some, like former beauty pageant contestant Maria Fernanda Nuñez, who was 22-years-old at the time of her attack, for their looks.
The former Miss Colombia contestant was brutally attacked near her home following a pageant’s rehearsal with her parents in 2010.
Despite authorities in the Colombia city of Cucuta claiming to know who ordered the attack, they said they could not perform an arrest because of a law that required Miss Nuñez to spend a minimum of 30 days in recovery.
Miss Nuñez received burns to her face, eye, and parts of her chest and lower body, but had only 20 days in recovery with a doctor.
While an arrest has still not been made in her attack, according to Colombia Reports, last May outrage over the episode help lead to an increase in the maximum prison sentence available to attackers.
The country’s previous sentence to attackers was six months to two years in prison.
Under the penmanship of Representative Stella Gloria Diaz, it has been emended to a maximum of 20 years with the attackers also required to provide the victims with protection and comprehensive care.
For 51-year-old Consuelo Cordoba who was attacked by her boyfriend 11 years ago – requiring her to wear a mask to prevent infection and a tube to breathe out of her nose – that care would be far from all she has now.
Today she walks a market in Bogota begging for change after, like many acid victims, being unable to find work for herself due to her appearance.
‘I’ve thought about committing suicide, yes sir, I’ve thought about taking my life three times. I say to myself, why live? With a life like the one I have, what for?’ she told NPR.
‘I had perfect teeth. I was very pretty … but now, I’m destroyed.’
Like Ms Cordoba, 26-year-old Gloria Piamba too says can’t find work in Bogota and has contemplated suicide after doused with the chemical by whom she says was her ex-boyfriend.
Wearing a mask over her mouth, a patch over her eye and a breathing tube in her nose to prevent it from conveying, she recently told a Reuters reporter: ‘Who’s going to give me a job looking like this?’
But she has a little boy to take care of.
‘I’m alive because of my son. I couldn’t bear to leave him alone’
– Acid victim Gloria Piamba
She recalls the first time she revealed her face to her six-year-old whose father she says was her attacker.
He said: ‘”Mummy, let’s kill this person who did this to you.”
‘He said, “When I’m older and have a job, I’ll buy you special cream to heal your face.”
They’re emotional memories that send her into near tears.
She said her son still doesn’t know all of what happened, but with a psychologist’s recommendation, he knows parts.
In her retelling of the attack she described it as a mistake: his father mistaking hot water across her face for cold.
‘The doctors told me to forget about the face I once had,’ Miss Piamba said. ‘Those words almost killed me. I thought about jumping off the 7th floor of the hospital.’
‘I’m alive because of my son,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t bear to leave him alone.’