Survivors of acid attacks in Mexico unite to push for change

Published on August 7, 2021 2:06 AM


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MEXICO CITY — Elisa Xolalpa has had three daughters and found a job she enjoys since a former boyfriend tried to destroy her life by tossing acid on her when she was 18. Two decades later, she is still seeking justice.

Survivors of acid attacks like Xolalpa are banding together and raising their voices in Mexico despite the country's high rates of violence, which often targets women, and staggering levels of impunity.

"I thought I was the only one," said the 38-year-old, who grows flowers on Mexico City's south side. "But we're not alone anymore."

Earlier this year, the Carmen Sánchez Foundation formed here to provide support and lobby for legal reforms for survivors of acid attacks. It has registered 29 such attacks so far, five already in 2021, but believes that is only a fraction of the real number.

Survivors want the attacks classified as attempted femicide, aid with the innumerable surgeries that follow and psychological support. They want to be seen even though their faces hurt.

"Mom, what is acid?" 9-year-old Daniela asked Xolalpa one day. For a moment Xolalpa was silent. Then she told her daughter that it was a liquid they used in the greenhouse that is dangerous. Another day Daniela left school in tears. "Some kids told me you're ugly, Mom, and it's not true," Xolalpa said her daughter told her. Xolalpa has a sweet gaze. She enjoys growing flowers in the chinampas — fertile islands interlaced by canals in the capital's Xochimilco borough — like her ancestors did. She recognizes that one day she will have to explain to her three daughters, product of another relationship, the attack that changed her life and for a time left her wanting to die.

These days she is focused on preparing herself mentally for a new court hearing for her attacker, who was finally arrested in February. She has made three complaints to authorities and suffered constant threats from him. For now he only faces a domestic violence charge, but Xolalpa hopes that will hold him long enough to pursue an attempted femicide charge.

Her attacker's lawyer has been dismissive. "He says I'm alright because I was able to have a family," she said indignantly. She entered the relationship with the father of her three daughters "to feel that I could please someone despite the scars," Xolapa said. "It was a mistake, I'm still damaged."...