Acid attack survivors turn to activism

Acid attack survivors turn to activism
Karli Butler and Esperanza Medina WBEZ/Natalie Moore
Acid attack survivors turn to activism
Karli Butler and Esperanza Medina WBEZ/Natalie Moore

Acid attack survivors turn to activism

Acid attacks are commonplace in some parts of the world. They’re used to maim and humiliate victims or take revenge. They’re rare in Chicago, but some high-profile cases have brought heightened attention to the heinous crimes.

Two local women who survived acid attacks have formed a special friendship that’s led to them to prevent more attacks here.

Four years ago Karli Butler suffered an acid attack. Two women followed Butler as she walked to her car in Evanston. She tried to close the car door on the gun-wielding woman.

BUTLER: And she put the gun in my face and said ‘do it again, bitch, and I’ll shoot you.’ And I was like oh, man, oh, God, I’m about to die. I said take my keys, take my purse. Take whatever you want. And that’s when I felt a splash in my face and I was like, ‘oh, my God, oh, my God.’

Then Butler felt another burning splash on her stomach.

BUTLER: I kicked the door open as hard as I could and then they backed up. I jumped out of the car and I was screaming because my clothes and my skin were melting off of me. I ran to my cousin’s as fast I could. I was banging on the door for help. And people came outside and by the looks on their faces I knew something was really, really, really wrong.

Butler was 24-years-old when she was attacked. Since then, she [s1] went through 15 surgeries. She had to heal burn scars on her face, her arms and her torso.

BUTLER: It was a long, ugly process. I had to accept my new self as a burn survivor, which was extremely difficult.

Butler’s process included running a marathon, getting a master’s degree … and publicly telling her story to others.

Butler reached out to another acid attack survivor named Esperanza Medina. This was about two years ago. Medina says at first she wasn’t ready to talk about her own assault, so she ignored Butler’s call.

Medina changed her mind because she says she needed to talk to someone who could relate. She invited Butler[s2] and her family to her house on Mother’s Day.

MEDINA: It was a nice afternoon. She came in like she already knows me. She goes, ‘I always got your back.’ I will never forget that.

But Medina and Butler’s friendship has grown beyond just sharing their painful stories. They made acid attacks their issue. They found out strange facts … like just how difficult it is to get numbers about acid attacks. According to the Cook County State’s Attorney Office, there have been three acid attack charges this year. The problem is that the Chicago Police Department categorizes them as “heinous battery.” That’s a catch-all term that makes it hard to tell which attacks involve acid and which ones don’t.

But Butler and Medina also came up with an idea to prevent acid attacks in the first place.

The duo went to Susanna Mendoza, a state representative in Chicago’s first district. Mendoza plans to introduce a bill that would restrict who can purchase the main ingredient — sulfuric acid.

MENDOZA: Right now anybody can walk into any hardware store and just purchase it like nothing else. Like buying rubber bands. And it really shouldn’t be that easy to buy sulfuric acid.

Mendoza envisions the bill wouldn’t impede customers who use the acid for cement or construction workers.

The Democrat says it would have people sign a form, kind of like people do when they buy certain over-the-counter cold medicines.

MENDOZA: But most everyday citizens don’t do that. So they really shouldn’t be able to access something that’s is now more routinely used as a real, serious weapon.

Mendoza says she wants to work with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association to get her bill passed. Officials from the retail organization declined to comment without seeing a specific bill. Home Depot sells various acid products. A national spokeswoman in Georgia says she hasn’t heard of restrictions in other states. She declined to comment on a possible Illinois law.

Again, Mendoza’s bill hasn’t gotten very far, but the attack victims Butler and Medina … hope it becomes law soon. They say it’ll have a lasting legacy and possibly prevent future acid attacks.