Aged 25, up-and-coming TV presenter Katie was assaulted in the street in North London by a man named Stefan Sylvestre, who threw sulphuric aid in her face.
Young Englishwoman Katie Piper seemed from the outside to have it all: she was pursuing her dream work in fashion and media, enjoying life, and — she was simply gorgeous. She got a lot of attention for her looks, including unwanted attention. She didn’t want to be seen as someone’s “trophy” though.
One day in 2008 she got a message on Facebook from a 28-year-old stranger called Daniel Lynch, who had quietly been following her career.
He seemed at the start to combine good looks with well-grounded intelligence and warmth — a rarity in her experience. When they met in person he was gentlemanly and attentive and Katie agreed to go out again.
Within a few days, he told her he was in love. Instead of feeling romantic it struck Katie as strange: they had only just met. She paid attention to her doubts and noticed more and more inconsistencies between what he said and what she saw. Something wasn’t right with this picture.
Then she observed that he would react violently, even to a small problem. Friends advised her to break it off. It had only been two weeks but she agreed to go away for the weekend with him.
At the hotel, Daniel attacked her, raping and beating her.
“The man who was meant to be my boyfriend had attacked me. I reached for the back of my head and felt blood pulsing from it,” Katie later wrote in her autobiographical book “Beautiful.” It didn’t stop there. He cut her multiple times with a razor blade and threatened to kill her.
Then he drove her home and told her not to tell anyone what had happened.
While being treated for her injuries at the hospital, Katie didn’t in fact report what Daniel had done. She was too petrified.
For the next days, the man who had started out so tender and warm-hearted now tried to control her every move. He called her constantly, asking what she was doing and where she was. Two days after attacking her, he begged her to go to an internet cafe to read an email he’d written explaining everything. He said he had a gift for her.
Knowing that she didn’t have internet at home at the time, he was luring her out.
She headed to the cafe but saw someone who looked like a vagrant outside with a cup of coffee. He approached her — about to ask for money, she assumed. But before she could do anything he threw the contents of his cup in her face.
“For a moment, I didn’t understand what had happened. And then the pain hit me – an explosion of agony, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It spread through my body like fire. I could feel my face burning, so hot I thought it was going to burst into flames.”
Daniel had sent his gift for Katie: sulfuric acid to deform her beautiful face.
As she felt her skin melting, Katie screamed in terror and stumbled into the internet cafe. An ambulance arrived soon after and took her to the hospital. The third-degree burns had disfigured her skin completely, blinded one of her eyes, even burning her mouth and esophagus. In addition, she had multiple burns on other parts of her body where the acid had dripped down.
Doctors decided to put Katie into an induced coma for 12 days. They embarked on the first of what would eventually be 40 procedures to rebuild her mutilated face.
Katie lost her job, her face, her dignity. She had been violated in every possible way that a human being could be and now she couldn’t even look at herself in the mirror. But it wasn’t her character to sink forever into misery. She wasn’t going to let this destroy her.
In 2009 Katie decided that her horrible experience could help others: “I chose to be a survivor. Now I love my scars because they gave me my new life.”
Inspiring words. She has since made stunning strides in reclaiming her life and her work. She’s even happily married and has a daughter. Katie has made it part of her life’s work to share her experience in documentaries and books.
Daniel Lynch, meanwhile, was sentenced to a life behind bars, while the man who threw the acid, Stefan Sylvestre, was no vagrant after all. He turned out to be a deliberate accomplice and will also spend the rest of his life in prison. Officials were able to capture both of them thanks to the burns Sylvestre received and to a security video. Lynch had actually been arrested previously because he’d thrown boiling water at someone, a hint of the violence to come.
Katie, however, has become a shining example and role model for women who’ve been attacked by their partners and victims of acid attacks in general. She’s a celebrity in the U.K. and has managed to build the life she truly wants — demonstrating truly enviable mental strength and motivating countless women along the way.
Her story is also a cautionary tale about how important it is to recognize abusive behavior early on in a relationship — and seek help to escape.
Most violence against women doesn’t have a happy ending but spreading stories like Katie’s can help make more people aware of the problem and signal that there IS support out there.
If you or someone you know is in what you think might be an abusive relationship, check the list of warning signs from The National Domestic Abuse Hotline, and please don’t hesitate to get help. Find U.S. numbers here and U.K. info here. (If you’re afraid of someone seeing your browser history after you research domestic abuse, here’s how to delete it.)
And spread the word — until violence against women is a thing of the past, the fight against it needs all the allies it can get!