“I am a firm believer that hurt people hurt people. The perpetrators of such hateful crimes are hurting others because of their own issues. How else do you explain harming someone in such a way?” – Karli Butler
Trauma redefines personality, the effects of a traumatic event can be life-altering. Any negative emotion like fear, anxiety, pain or sorrow makes a deeper incision in our minds than any positive emotion. Personal failures, turbulent relationships, violent environments, identity crisis or social rejections – attacks of any kind: physical or mental either destroy us completely or firmly reinstate our ability to fight back.
This is a life story of a woman who, after enduring 30% third degree burns and 70% scarring, reclaimed her life by crushing physical stereotypes and falling in love with those scars.
Her name is Karli Butler and she is a part of my “Real Life Heroes” series
Image Courtesy – Karli Butler
10 years ago when Karli Butler was attacked with acid (not only once but twice), little did she know that love would cost her life. She spent weeks in Intensive Care Unit only to wake up someday as a completely changed person. Honestly, I wouldn’t personally call her a victim, she isn’t a survivor either. She is simply “unconventional”.
Image Courtesy – Karli Butler
Q1. What happened that altered your life altogether?
I was attacked twice in 2006. The first attack occurred on – March 15th, as, I was leaving for work. At that time, I was living in the South Loop of Chicago and when I went into the parking garage, I was attacked by a group of guys. They punched me, kicked me, and picked me up and dropped me all the while threatening to kill me. Once they stuffed me into the trunk of my car, I panicked and while trying to get out, I accidentally popped the trunk release button. While I took advantage of my opportunity to jump out, the biggest guy was able to stop me by punching me on the face and spraying acid in my eyes. He, then, stuffed me back in the trunk. While he got in the driver’s seat of my car, he turned the volume of the music up so loud, that, I could feel the bass in my throat. I’m sure he’d done that so that no one could hear my screams. I then popped the trunk and crouched down on the right side holding it as tightly as possible. All the while, I could see the other guys in the car preparing to trail mine. I held it as tightly as possible and counted each turn down the ramp. I knew it would take four revolutions, so after the fourth turn, I jumped out of the trunk and escaped. Fortunately, I was able to escape with a busted lip and a contusion on my hip. My contact lenses saved my vision and the acid burned through most of my clothes and the items in my trunk, so I didn’t sustain much physical damage. However, I was emotionally ravaged.
The second attack occurred a few months later on the evening of May 25th. I was leaving my cousin’s house late in the evening when two women approached me asking for directions. It felt odd, so I reacted by running. I thought that if I could make it to my car, I could try to drive off or run them over. Fortunately, I made it to my car, but while trying to close the door, one of the women got her hand in the door with a gun. She pointed the gun at my face and said, “Do it again bitch and I’ll shoot you!” So, I offered her my keys and my purse while surrendering, and that’s when I felt an awful splash on my face. It’s hard for me to describe the pain. It burned so horribly I tried to wipe it away and you can see where the skin around my eyes melted. The second splash came with even greater force. She threw it on my stomach and it would drip down into my lap and down my thighs. The pain was so great that whatever clothes weren’t melting off me, I was ripping them off. I kicked the car door open and ran back to my cousin’s house screaming for help. By the time I made it there I was almost naked. I was in immense pain, but I knew that I was badly injured because the neighbors who responded to my screams were gasping in horror. My cousin was finally able to open the door and let me in at which time I ran up the stairs and straight to her bathroom where she put me in cold shower.
Image Courtesy- Barcroft Images
Q2. Its not easy for a woman to rise from ashes and rebuild, but you did it successfully. In the entire process, did you ever feel revengeful towards the person who tried to destroy you?
I felt incredibly vengeful during my six-week hospital stay and through the trial, which happened about a year later. I was very angry for a long time, I was mad at the world, I was mad at everybody because everyone else got to move on with their lives, everyone else got to go back and have a good time and party, everybody else got to go back to work and I was still stuck. It was a very difficult time. The only problem with that was none of that negative energy was doing anything positive for my life, and I knew that I couldn’t continue to live like that.
Q3. There is an article on TheGuardian which says, “Acid attacks have almost doubled in last 10 years”, do you also think that throwing acid has become a part of a natural thought process? Blame it on inflicted egos that do not know how to handle rejection of any sort…
There’s nothing natural about devastating someone’s life in such a violent way, but it’s a relatively easy way to kill a person’s spirit without really killing them. As an eternal optimist, I like to think that people haven’t gone completely mad, but considering the rise in acid attacks, it leads me to believe that it is more difficult for people to handle rejection. It takes so little to cause an incredible amount of damage and most often the perpetrator is scorned. It’s unfortunate and very scary because it could happen to anyone.
Q4. Do you think there is a way to prevent such ghastly incidents? Any support organizations that you are aware of….how do they provide help?
I think that there should be more focus on increasing emotional intelligence, especially at a young age. Recognizing our feelings and learning how to manage the negative ones in a healthy way is an important life skill, and unfortunately, many of us don’t learn that early on. Some of that is cultural. As a result, many people don’t know how to manage their stress or reduce negative feelings, and as a result they have a very negative reactions when they are rejected.
I think most support organizations raise awareness about acid attacks and help manage the aftermath, but more needs to be done to address the root causes. For example, there are some countries who have passed tougher sentencing for acid crimes, but acid is still cheap and easily accessible. Also, women are more likely to be acid burn survivors than men, so it’s clearly gender-based violence. Why is that so? We’ve all got to dig deeper.
Q5. In this world where almost every woman, whether inside the walls of an organization or right under the sun, successful or struggling goes through sexist dissection at some point in her life, how did you manage to crush the physical stereotypes and rise above it?
While I still have some insecurities about my physical appearance, they don’t run my life. I don’t allow the things that I want to work on physically (my weight, my teeth, my eyebrows) to define who I am as a person. And I’m generally happy with myself. I am happy with the choices I make, how I treat others, how I mother my son, and how I choose to impact my community. This hasn’t always been true, however. It’s been quite the journey to self-acceptance.
Image Courtesy – Barcroft Media
I had to rebuild myself and think about me; what was important to me and remind myself that, I only have this one life to live, so, I really have to make the best of it. And that, before anybody else can love me I have to love myself. I’ve had moments where I’ve felt like, “Oh my goodness, this is my one body and… it’s scarred.” I will always look like this. My son will only know me as this and never know me as the person I was before this happened to me. And… It was so unnecessary, I think. But any time, I start wondering what life would be without scars, I have to remind myself of that I’m still breathing, I’m still here, I still have an opportunity to make a difference so I just have to keep saying thank you.
Even if others were to compliment me about my physical beauty none of that would matter if I didn’t believe it. And that’s what’s important . . . that – I believe it.
Q6. How do you see yourself now, after so many years of that incident?
I feel like, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything that has happened has helped to make me who I am today. (I know it sounds so cliché, but it’s so true.) I’m really grateful for all of my experiences and I’m thankful that, I got to use them, along with my scars as tools to teach and encourage others. It’s an incredible opportunity. I never imagined that this would be my life, but, here I am and it’s not perfect, but it’s mine.
I am confident and very happy with the woman I’ve become, but I look forward to learning and growing. Thank you for this opportunity to continue showing the world that there’s a beautiful life after drama, trauma, and scars.
(None of the above images have been taken by me. The featured Image is by – Pickapose Photography (Name of the photographer – Laura, Insta:@theartistmeansnothing, other images are by – Barcroft Media and some belong to Karli Butler)
(These journeys have been personally shared with me by our ‘Heroes’)
Know more about ‘Our Hero’ – Karli Butler @
Speaking Engagements: http://burnedbeauty.com/about-karli/speaking-engagements/
Karli works as a social service provider at Curt’s Cafe South.