Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has finally passed a law implementing stricter penalties for criminals found guilty of committing acid attacks.
The so termed ‘Natalia Ponce’ law will view attacks committed using chemical substances as a crime, whereas under current Colombian law they are viewed as personal injury.
“We need to put a stop to a tragedy, which 628 Colombians have had to face during the past six years,” Santos commented, accompanied by victims of acid attacks in the country, including Natalia Ponce de Léon.
Showing her face for the first time in Public, de Léon was attacked in 2014 in the Colombian capital, after a jealous boyfriend through acid in her face during an unprovoked attack. Suffering severe burns to her face and body, Natalia has since become the face of acid attack victims in Colombia, with an average of around 100 attacks per year reported in the country since 2010, BBC Mundo reports.
De Léon has had over 20 reconstructive surgeries on her face alone. With her plastic surgeon Jorge Luis Gaviria, Natalia is currently working on reconstructing her mouth. To date she has regained her eyebrows and eyelashes.
“Increasing the sentencing will make anyone about to commit this crime think, and if they have to spend 30 to 50 years in prison then it will make them think twice. I think it will help, besides, restricting the sale of acid is a great step for Colombia and I know that this will help things to change and help reduce acid attacks in Colombia,” de Léon told daily El Colombiano.
Any individual “using any type of chemical substance” to cause harm will receive a 12 to 20 year prison sentence, increasing to 30 years behind bars if the attack results in deformity or permanent damage to the victim. The law will also include the production and trafficking of dangerous substances.
For Natalia, who has also spent time in the UK and more recently in New York, being able to appear in public without her mask has been a liberating experience.
“I felt free and fearless,” she said in relation to her recent trip to the U.S.
“I feel much more comfortable in myself (…) my Mum helps with my eye makeup, because I suffered a lot, and they look good. Besides, yesterday was a special day. It was an honor for me, knowing that the law was going to be passed and I thought that Colombia should see my face without my uvex mask.”
Natalia’s example is a glimmer of hope for women across the globe at risk of acid attacks from jealous partners or family members. Her example helps place Colombia on the map, with its more forward thinking attitude towards women, caught up in savage attacks using toxic and dangerous chemicals.