Naomi Oni is the epitome of brave. The 25-year-old’s extensively burned face was splashed across the front pages of British newspapers in 2012 after a so-called friend attacked her with acid. Rather than bottle up the rage and anger, Oni has remarkably chosen to forgive her attacker.
Oni recounts the fateful night in a new BBC Three documentary, Acid Attack: My Story, more than five years after the horrific attack. The East Londoner was walking home from a late shift at the lingerie store where she worked at shopping centre Westfield Stratford City in December 2012.
Not far from the Dagenham house she shared with her mother, Oni was suddenly splashed with acid on an empty street. The woman disguised in traditional Muslim clothing was actually Mary Konye, one of Oni’s former school friends.
At the age of 20, Oni suffered third degree burns and doctors feared she would be permanently blind.
Recalling Konye’s act of evil, Oni told the Mail Online: “I’d felt a presence. I remember seeing a woman’s cold eyes piercing into mine. The rest of her face was obscured by her veil. I didn’t want to stare back, so I turned away. Then I felt the splash. I took a big intake of breath then screamed. I thought I was going to be killed. My face and tongue were burning.”
She continued: “I didn’t have time to feel fear. I ran and didn’t look back. I felt it was the end — that I was on the brink of death. I screamed as loud as I could to deter this woman from chasing me, and ran until I got to my front door. I could feel a scalding sensation and there was a chemical smell.”
After a long spell of morphine drips and skin grafts in hospital, Oni’s eyesight gradually returned. Despite realising the magnitude of the attack, Oni admits she was still shocked to see the extent of scars and facial burns when she eventually looked in the mirror.
Oni said: “I just couldn’t take it in. I couldn’t stop crying. I looked at this vision of my face in the hospital bathroom and just slid down the wall. I didn’t feel grateful I was alive. I felt angry and thought: ‘What is the point in living?’ I thought about taking my life.
“But then I gathered myself. I imagined my mum’s face and thought: “I couldn’t do it to her. I couldn’t leave her.”
Watch Naomi Oni’s interview on Good Morning Britain:
Incredibly, Oni no longer holds any hatred towards Konye despite the life-changing scars. She explained: “I do forgive her. I owe myself the freedom to move on. But I still think she is a callous, vindictive person; a complete coward who betrayed me.”
Konye has reportedly shown no remorse for the attack and is currently serving a 12-year sentence after being found guilty in 2014. Oni has impressively completed a makeup course and hopes to secure a job in the beauty industry. Although her boyfriend at the time of the attack “drifted away” shortly after, Oni remains optimistic about finding true love in the future.
Acid Attack: My Story is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.