Acid-attack victims call for tougher penalties

November 8, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Esperanza Medina and Karli Butler were both burned with sulfuric acid in separate attacks. They want to prevent similar assaults in the future. The two women testified Monday before the Chicago City Council about the physical and emotional scars they endured.

Medina was attacked with acid in 2008, Butler in 2006. They call their experiences "torture for life." They hope making the penalties tougher for such attacks will keep others from knowing what they are going through.

The women have become each other's champion, bonding over their similar, devastating experiences when they were each doused with sulfuric acid in vicious attacks.

"I'm dead, I feel dead sometimes," Medina told the City Council.

"I was emotionally, physically and financially devastated by what happened to me," said Butler.

Medina and Butler convinced the committee to dramatically increase the fines for possession and sale of sulfuric acid and other dangerous substances in Chicago, many of which are already banned.

"We don't want it to happen to anyone else so I'm happy. I'm elated that we've gotten this attention and it's happening," Butler told reporters. Medina and Butler first got the attention of State Representative Susanna Mendoza who says that sulfuric acid can be bought at any hardware store in Chicago-- even though the sale of such liquids has been banned for years in the city.

"This draws much more attention to this issue and will also be something that I can go to Springfield with and say, 'Look, Chicago, the largest city in the state, has already passed this. There's a need to move forward with this legislation,'" Mendoza said.

Mendoza discussed making the current penalties for selling sulfuric acid even tougher with finance committee chairman Ed Burke who is sponsoring the measure.

Meanwhile, the aldermen praised Medina and Butler for their courage to tell their stories.

"You guys are two beautiful ladies that are strong and are good examples for us to come here and testify in support of this ordinance," said Ald. Ray Suarez, 31st Ward.

"I know what's on the inside is what counts, but when they tell you that you're beautiful and you don't feel that way, it feels good," said Medina.

The revised ordinance would raise the minimum fine from $50 to $500 and increase the maximum fine to $1,500. It is possible the provision will go before the entire City Council on Wednesday.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association expressed concern that the restrictions may impact the business of companies that sell products with sulfuric acid.

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