LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Doused in acid as punishment for rejection, Patricia Lefranc is typical of the thousands of women whose lives are ruined by ex-partners armed with acid. But instead of hiding away, the 54-year-old Belgian is using her disfigurement to fight for change.
The mother of three is fronting a Europe-wide campaign for tighter scrutiny over the sale of acid, found in common household cleaners from paint stripper to drain clearer.
Lefranc wants a new law requiring anyone buying acid in the European Union to show an ID card first.
“There is only bad intention when buying acid ... in my eyes identification is the only way that will stop this sort of violence,” Lefranc told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In a campaign video due to be released at the end of August, a painting of how Lefranc looks now, her face laced with scars and disfigurement after more than 100 surgeries, will transform into an image of her face before the 2009 sulphuric acid attack.
“I was very angry that the doctors didn’t let me die. I thought I was a monster on earth. Now it’s different, I know the reason I’m still alive,” Lefranc said in an interview.
Charity Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) estimates that women and girls make up 80 percent of acid attacks in Europe, where nearly 1,500 attacks were recorded in 2017. England and Wales ranked worst, with 950 attacks recorded - an increase of a third on the year before. Six in 10 attacks are believed to go unreported each year, the charity said.
On Tuesday, a man was jailed for 17 years for manslaughter after he doused a 47-year-old Briton, Joanne Rand, with acid. Rand, who had been visiting her daughter’s grave, died 11 days after the attack following multiple organ failure.
Acid melts skin and tissue and victims face permanent disfigurement, medical complications, psychological trauma and social and economic isolation.
Lefranc was 45 when she ended her affair with the man who would go on to attack her with acid, Richard Remes.
After the breakup, she said he deluged her with up to three hundred text messages a day, then came to her apartment disguised as a delivery man and showered her in liquid.
After spending three months in a coma and nine months in rehabilitation, she began researching acid attacks and petitioning the European Parliament for change.
“How many victims will still have to be attacked before it serious enough to ratify a law to regulate sale of acid? We should not underestimate just how dangerous acid can be,” she said.
Jaf Shah, executive director of ASTI, said the campaign for a new law was still in its early stages, but the film would raise awareness of what an attack can entail for victims.
“Understanding the trauma, the pain and the disfigurement that comes about as a consequence of such an attack is really important,” Shah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“This film is a critical part of kick-starting the campaign in order to gain recognition and raise awareness,” Shah said. “Once that’s started, we can start to exercise some influence.”
Reporting by Meka Beresford @mekaberesford, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org