Roughly two years after a grizzly assault that captivated Colombia and spurred the nation’s lawmakers to action, a new law promises tougher punishment for those convicted of attacking others with acid and other chemicals.
On Monday, President Juan Manuel Santos signed into effect the Natalia Ponce Law, which increases penalties for acid attacks and establishes clearer procedures for treatment of victims.
“We don’t want to continue to occupy the dishonorable position of being one of the leading countries in the world in terms of the number of acid attacks,” said Santos in a ceremony Monday.
“We must do everything necessary to protect victims and prevent future cases.”
Most of the world’s acid attacks occur in South Asia, but recent reports suggest the rate of chemical assaults has been on the rise in Colombia, and the country’s per capita rate is one of the world’s highest.
Deliberately harming someone with chemicals is now punishable by a minimum of 12 to 30 years depending on the extent of bodily damage.
The most severe attacks — those against minors and those that result in death — are now punishable by up to 50 years in prison, roughly double the maximum sentence under previous laws.
Any acid attack, even one that doesn’t cause any bodily harm, is punishable by between one and five years in prison.
A conviction under the new law also carries a fine of between $644 million and $1.9 billion pesos for the most serious offenses.
The law gets its name from Natalia Ponce de León, who was attacked with acid in 2014 at the age of 33. Chemicals burned more than a third of her body, including her face, neck and legs.
“To all the people like myself who continue to fight, and to all the women who are victims of violence, I would tell you to not be quiet,” said Ponce in November after Colombia’s Congress passed the law on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
“Don’t be afraid, have faith and believe in justice.”
Some 926 acid attacks were reported in Colombia between 2004 and 2014, according to the Institute of Legal Medicine, the national coroner’s and forensic medicine office.
The majority of attacks are against women in their 20s and 30s, but more than 360 assaults were against men, mostly in cases of mugging.
Ponce was present on Monday at the ceremony with President Santos, marking one of her first public appearances without a mask to protect her delicate facial skin, which has been partially repaired through numerous restorative surgeries.