Acid attack survivor fronts fashion book in new awareness campaign

By Johnny Cotton and Marie-Louise Gumuchian

NIVELLES, Belgium/LONDON (Reuters) – Sitting at her home in the Belgian town of Nivelles, acid attack survivor and campaigner Patricia Lefranc flicks through a sleek book of pictures of her shot by British fashion photographer Rankin.

In one, she holds a photo of herself before the devastating 2009 attack by an ex. Others show her in different poses throughout the lookbook, a photo catalogue typically used by fashion brands.

“I have learnt to see myself after (the attack). If I had seen this photo of myself five or six years ago I would have been in tears,” Lefranc said.

“It’s going to sound harsh to say it – but, I’ve learnt (to live with) this ugliness. It’s me.”

Lefranc, 59, features in a new campaign by Rankin and charity Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTi) seeking to raise awareness about the devastating effects of acid violence and the geographical correlation between industry use of corrosives, namely in fashion and textiles, and the frequency of attacks.

“Areas that were impacted by acid violence in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan are those areas where there’s a large industrial fashion base,” ASTi executive director Jaf Shah told Reuters.

“The lookbook is an advocacy tool designed to raise awareness and encourage companies to take action to help prevent attacks by introducing stricter controls around corrosive substances that have been weaponized by predominantly men against women.”

He said the lookbook’s target audience were senior executives working in the fashion industry.

As well as portraits of Lefranc, the “Tear Couture” lookbook focuses on countries with textile industries and acid attacks that have occurred there.

Shah said at least 10,000 acid attacks occur each year around the world, but under-reporting remains a big issue.

“Very few countries have acid attacks as a specific offence so we don’t really know the total number of attacks occurring globally,” he said.

Lefranc’s since jailed attacker, who she says harassed her after she split with him, had posed as a delivery man when he doused her with acid.

“I was crawling on my arms, I couldn’t walk, and I saw that my arm was melting like an aspirin and I said to myself ‘You’re dying here’,” she said.

The mother of three, whose face and body are laced with scars, spent three months in a coma after the attack and has undergone over 100 operations.

“I simply said to myself, ‘Look, if you’re still alive it’s for a reason. There must be a reason’,” she said. “Even before what happened I was a fighter, I was always busy and I did not want to stay locked up at home and give him the satisfaction.”

(Reporting by Johnny Cotton in Nivelles and Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)