While acid attacks have long been common in South Asia, Europe is now also facing scrutiny as the numbers of attacks in the UK, France, and other territories have skyrocketed in recent times. In fact, acid attacks have been on the rise globally, with alarming numbers causing a great deal of concern in the international community.
Last year, there were 465 attacks in London alone, a record number sixfold the previous year’s. This disturbing rise in acid attacks has positioned the UK as one of the most common places for an acid attack to occur, joining the likes of India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Pakistan.
The surge in the number of acid attacks in the UK can be attributed to the easy accessibility of strong acidic products—household cleaning products, drain cleaners, etc. Additionally, acid has become a weapon of choice because their possession is hard to monitor, which makes it much easier to get away with a crime of this nature.
The reasons for the attacks are often related to gang violence and “crimes of passion.” “Crimes of passion” have the understanding that horrendous disfigurement will prevent someone’s future with a different partner. Meanwhile, the reasoning behind gang violence is arguably more territorial—marking, or rather, punishing those who have ‘done wrong’ by the gang itself.
In the UK, unlike many other countries, the victims of such horrendous crimes have often been men, usually as targets of gang-related attacks. However, in the rest of the world, acid attacks have had a disproportionate impact on women, who are the usual victims of “crimes of passion.” In fact, in many developing countries where women are generally the victims, acid attacks perpetuate sex-based discrimination in society, often causing women to live in fear of reporting the attacks. And even if attacks are reported, laws concerning acid attacks in many of these communities are loosely enforced, so crimes go vastly unpunished.
However, as a response to this injustice, NGO’s like Acid Survivors Foundation and Stop Acid Attacks have bravely stepped up to protect the women of developing countries where acid attacks are prevalent. They have been working hard to reduce the number of acid attacks, while also providing women employment opportunities and help in re-establishing themselves in society.
Meanwhile, to help prevent further attacks in the UK, home secretary Amber Rudd said she will be barring the sales of corrosive substances to minors and will also create new penalties for possession of corrosive substances in public places.
All of this is welcomed change, as much of the stigma associated with acid attacks is slowly changing; however, much more work remains to be done. If you wish to be part of the change, you can learn more about acid attacks and get involved in helping the victims by visiting www.acidviolence.org/get-involved.html.