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CRUSITA MARTINEZ, 26

Boston

The words were chilling. "If you don't love me, nobody will love you," Crusita Martinez's abusive ex-boyfriend told her. Seconds later, outside an abandoned factory in the Dominican Republic, he doused her with a bottle of battery acid and urine and left her to burn. Weeks after the May 2002 attack, her eyelids and the tip of her nose seared off, her chest and arms covered in third-degree burns, Crusita was finally well enough to see her 4-year-old son. He was horrified: "He said, 'You're not my mother!'" Crusita recalls. "'You're a monster!'"

Today she wears those scars with pride. Since January 2003, when doctors from Shriners Hospital for Children-Boston who'd heard her story (the attack led to stronger domestic violence laws in the D.R., and her ex was sentenced to 30 years) flew her to the U.S. for treatment, she has counseled hundreds of battered women at Boston-area shelters. She's so dedicated that she's skipped dates with her husband of four years, Cesar Muniz, 42, a medical assistant, because victims needed her. "I say, 'If you don't leave, you'll end up like me, or six feet under,'" says Crusita, 26, a hotel maid and schoolbus monitor who's had more than 20 surgeries with the help of the domestic violence nonprofit the R.O.S.E. Fund. The mom of Vladimil, now 12-who thinks she's "beautiful"-and Arianny, 16 months, tells women, "Life will go on. There is hope."

Which was just what Geralda de Jesus, 49, needed to hear. Once so ashamed of her scars from an acid attack by her ex, she used to go out only wearing a mask-but no more. "Crusita," she says, "has given me a dose of her strength."

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