Tougher sentences for acid attacks

By bogotapost December 2, 2015
Natalia Ponce, Acid attacks

Natalia Ponce was left severely scarred after an acid attack, for which her assailant has yet to be sentenced.

‘Natalia Ponce law’ means those found guilty could face up to 50 years in prison

The Senate passed a new law to crack down on the perpetrators of acid attacks on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Under the new law, those who “use any type of chemical agent” to inflict injury could be imprisoned for between 12 and 20 years, and if the victim is permanently disfigured, the sentence could increase to up to 50 years. The law, which still has to be ratified by the president, allows for a fine of up to 250 minimum salaries.

Previously, acid attacks were prosecuted as a form of physical aggression, for which sentences were much shorter.

Colombia has the third highest rate of acid attacks in the world after Bangladesh and Pakistan. Over the past ten years, Medicina Legal has recorded over 900 people in the country who have been injured or even killed by acid. While attacks on men are not uncommon, many of the victims are women between 20 and 30 years old.

The high level of impunity for these types of attacks is another issue. According to Semana, since January 2013, the attorney general’s office has opened 2,178 investigations, of which 1,131 are still being pursued. In that time, only 16 people have been sentenced.

The law has been named after Natalia Ponce de León, a Bogotá resident who was the victim of an acid attack by a neighbour in March 2014. He threw approximately a litre of sulphuric acid over her face and body at the door of her apartment block.

According to authorities, he had become obsessed with her and meticulously planned the attack in the weeks prior to the event.

Since the attack, Ponce has had 20 surgeries to reconstruct the parts of her body which were burnt by the acid and is scheduled to have more procedures in the future.

Over the past year, the 35-year old has campaigned tirelessly to change the system.

Ponce’s attacker, Jonathan Vega, has not yet been sentenced for the crime. The attorney general has called for a sentence of over 25 years, but his defence argues that he suffers from schizophrenia which was the reason for the attack.

Upon hearing of the Senate’s decision, Ponce thanked the legislature for showing understanding of the gravity of this kind of attack on such an important day. She vowed to keep fighting for the cause and said that the law brought hope to all victims of these attacks.

“50 years is a long time, but the victim will bear this pain for the rest of their life… I think the death penalty would be doing a favour to the offender.”

By Laura Sharkey