Colombian acid survivor seeks tougher justice for 'an identity erased'

Mon Apr 20, 2015 12:06pm EDT
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By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Natalia Ponce de Leon's life was shattered within seconds when a stalker hurled acid at her outside the family home in an upscale part of the Colombian capital last year.

The sulphuric acid devoured Ponce's face, neck, abdomen and legs, melting her skin and leaving a quarter of her body burnt in an attack that shocked the Latin American country.

Since then, the 33-year-old has undergone 15 operations to reconstruct her face using artificial skin from the Netherlands.

"It destroys you. Look at my burnt body without a face, without an identity - an identity erased," said Ponce, who must wear a clear, custom-made mask to protect her face.

"(It was) absolute torture. I was between life and death," she told reporters in Bogota during her first public appearance since the attack, which was captured by surveillance cameras.

Although acid attacks are most common in South Asia, Colombia reported one of the highest rates per capita in the world in 2012.

After the attack, Ponce's suspected assailant was quickly arrested, charged with attempted murder and sent to jail awaiting trial.

Under Colombian law, acid attacks are defined as personal injury, a crime carrying a maximum 15-year prison sentence.   Continued...

Natalia Ponce de Leon listens to a question during a news conference at El Tiempo newspaper in Bogota April 16, 2015.  REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez