In Mexico, acid attacks are not considered a crime in the Federal Criminal Code, which prevents official knowledge of the number of such attacks. Faced with this reality, women’s rights activists and defenders have taken it upon themselves to make visible these shortcomings that prevent them from accessing justice.
MEXICO (Reporte Indigo) – It is said that what is not named does not exist. On the morning of 20 February 2014, Carmen Sánchez’s former partner arrived at her home in Ixtapaluca, State of Mexico. The two discussed for 20 minutes. He, a 17-year-old taxi driver, asked her for another chance and she refused. Then Efren, the father of her daughters, took a bottle of acid out of his jacket and threw the chemical on her face and body.
The third-degree burns left her hospitalized for almost eight months despite a ruling by Justice Ministry personnel that her injuries were not life-threatening since, according to the authority, they would take 15 days or less to heal. To date she has undergone 57 surgeries.
After her experience, Carmen went from being a victim to a women’s rights activist. Now she is demanding justice for herself and for those who have suffered this type of violence. Six years after her assault, she has managed to form a network of contacts in various states of the Mexican Republic and is now giving a lecture at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance entitled “Acid Attacks in Mexico: Between Machismo and Impunity”.
To date, Sanchez has documented 13 cases of women who were attacked with acid, including hers. The first occurred in 2010, followed by one in 2012, then hers in 2014 and another in 2015. From 2016 she has no record, unlike 2017, when there was one attack; in 2018 the annual number increased to five and 2019 ended with three.
The most recent was on September 9 last year. Maria Elena Rios Ortiz, a saxophonist from Huajuapan, Oaxaca, sprayed with acid by a man while she was at home. The alleged perpetrator is Juan Antonio Vera Carrizal, a former local PRI congressman, more than 20 years older than her, with whom she had a relationship and who threatened her every time she tried to end it. “That’s the knowledge we have. But I am sure, I can, with all certainty, say that there are more women attacked with acid within the country (…) I speak of these 13 cases because I was authorized to speak about them, I cannot mention some others,” she says. Fear of reprisals or rejection by society prevents breaking the silence.
Like Carmen and María Elena, Esmeralda Millán was also attacked by her former partner. On December 2, 2018, four men cornered her while she was walking with her mother in Cuautlancingo, Puebla. Fidel, the father of her two children, threw the corrosive substance at her when she was in front of him, even himself getting splashed by the acid.
Sex, age and relationship to the perpetrator are some indicators for acid attacks to be considered gender-based violence. A State that fails to prevent, investigate, punish and compensate the victims of this crime reflects institutional impunity. “These are men who decide to burn us when they are rejected, when the woman tells them no more,” says the activist.
Premeditated acid attacks on women
The organization Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), which seeks to ensure that survivors of these attacks can live with dignity and without fear, states that acid violence is a worldwide phenomenon that does not distinguish between countries but does distinguish between sexes.
It is based in the United Kingdom and after its founding in 2002, began its work in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Uganda and recently in Colombia.
Of course, attacks on men exist but women and girls are disproportionately affected. ASTI data indicate that at least 1,500 acid attacks are committed against women worldwide each year and more than 80 percent of the attacks are directed at their faces. “The face has to do with what we had discussed about these gender roles. Women are associated with beauty, of course a weak point would be to attack just that value that society also attributes to it”. Explains the activist.
In the case of Mexico, according to information provided by Carmen Sanchez to Reporte Indigo, 85 percent of the victims of the acid violence are women and 79 percent of the aggressors are men.
In addition, ASTI emphasizes that the use of acid as a weapon is a type of premeditated violence. In Mexico, it is only an aggravating factor for the classification of the crime expressed in article 315 of the Federal Penal Code. In this article, the concept of substance harmful to health is used without specifications.
Three of the 13 victims Carmen Sanchez investigated were tortured with acid before being killed. But unlike femicides, attacks with corrosive substances are not covered by the Federal Penal Code.
The nation’s capital is the first of 32 states to punish this crime. The head of government, Claudia Sheinbaum, published a decree in the Official Gazette of Mexico City on Jan. 8, 2020, reforming articles 130 and 131 of the local penal code.
This will provide for six to eight years’ imprisonment for life-threatening damage that results in the loss of an organ or limb or causes a deformity.
The penalties shall be increased by one half for anyone who commits an offence against a person who is a blood relative, with whom there is a history of threats, and where the injuries are degrading or use acids, corrosive or flammable substances.
Mexico City is the only state in the Republic where local legislation has been modified to punish attacks on women with corrosive substances.
As an activist for women’s rights, Carmen Sánchez was the main promoter of the initiative proposed by the local representative of the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM), Alessandra Rojo de la Vega Píccolo, to punish acid violence with 7 to 14 years in prison.
The congresswoman sent more than 500 letters to local congressional deputies to replicate the initiative that criminalizes chemical attacks against women. She reported that 20 legislative bodies are already discussing these reforms.
The proposal had three objectives: to increase the penalties for aggressors, to provide comprehensive care for victims and to regulate the distribution of the acids used to commit these crimes. If the crime leaves a scar on the face it will be five to seven years in prison. If the victim is female, the penalty will be seven to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The network of women who have been attacked with acid plans to hold a bazaar to cover their expenses. They receive donations in kind or by transfer to the card 4766 8415 4310 2597.
Luz Rangel for Reporte Indigo
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