Friday, 27 November 2015

Acid Attacks (28 November 2016)

Parveen Ali, Guest Editor

‘I spent six months in hospital. I was so depressed because I was in a closed room and my whole body was bandaged up, so I couldn’t move. It felt like I was in a cage’
(Neela Amina Khatun, Acid attacks... a survivor's story)

A vicious and damaging form of violence against women is acid violence. It involves throwing or pouring acid onto a person with an intention to kill or injure them (Waldron et al. 2014). In such instances, sulphuric or nitric acid or bleach is thrown or poured on victims face or body, resulting in severe skin burn, damage to eyes, ears and facial bones causing in disfigurement. It results in damaging the ability to speak, eat, drink, see and hear. The higher survival rate among victims of acid attack means that the victim has to live with long term physical, psychological, social and economic consequences. The victims may have to go through a series of surgical procedures resulting in additional complexities and the burden on the victim and their family (Mannan et al. 2006). The impact of acid attack is such that the victims often find it very difficult to return to a normal life. For instance, the permanent disfigurement resulting from acid attacks is associated with stigma, fear, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Acid violence is prevalent in many parts of the world. According to the Acid Survivors Trust International, every year approximately 1500 acid attack are committed globally. Acid attacks used to be common in the US, UK, and Europe in the 19th century, though the incidence has decreased now (Welsh 2009). Some high profile acid attacks have also been reported in Bulgaria and Greece (Welsh 2009). However, the incidence of acid attacks is reported to be much higher in the developing countries (Olaitan & Jiburum 2008) such as Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa. The highest incidence of acid attack is reported to be 83% in Cambodia (Micheau et al. 2004) and 92% in Bangladesh.

Evidence suggests that an overwhelming majority of victims of acid attacks are women aged 13-35. The motives behind committing such a heinous crime include refusal of a marriage proposal or approaches by a lover. The attacker usually aims to do disfigure the victim’s face and body to destroy their prospects of marriage or future relationships. Other motives include marriage problems, illicit relationships and extramarital affairs, divorce, or property and land disputes or political or religious reasons. In the majority of cases, the attacker is known to the victim, and this may be a reason that the crime is not often reported to police and law enforcement organisations.

Preventing such crimes is essential and lesson needs to be learned from countries such as Bangladesh, where appropriate efforts have resulted in a reduction of the incidence rate of acid attacks. Strategies such as raising awareness about the crime through community and media mobilisation, engaging youth to stop acid violence, engaging with and sensitizing acid sellers and users, appropriate implementation of the acid control act and capacity building of health care professionals have been helpful (Acid Survivor Foundation 2013). It is also important to explore perpetrator's perspective as it can help identify motives, characteristics of perpetrators


Action Aid (2011). Acid Attack. A survivor’s story. (Accessed 22 November 2015)

Acid Survivor Foundation (2013). Annual Report 2013. Available at (accessed 27 November 2015)

Mannan, A., Ghani, S., Clarke, A., White, P., Salmanta, S., & Butler, P. E. M. (2006). Psychosocial outcomes derived from an acid burned population in Bangladesh, and comparison with Western norms. Burns, 32, 235-241.

Micheau, P., Lauwers, F., Vath, S. B., Seilha, T., Dumurgier, C., & Joly, B. (2004). Caustic burns. Clinical study of 24 patients with sulfuric acid burns in Cambodia. In Annales de chirurgie plastique et esthetique, 49, 239-254.

Olaitan, P. B., & Jiburum, B. C. (2008). Chemical injuries from assaults: An increasing trend in a developing country. Indian journal of plastic surgery: official publication of the Association of Plastic Surgeons of India, 41, 20.

The Acid Survivors Trust International (2015). Acid Violence. Why it happens. (Accessed 25 November 2015)

Waldron, N. R., Kennifer, D., Bourgois, E., Vanna, K., Noor, S., & Gollogly, J. (2014). Acid violence in Cambodia: The human, medical and surgical implications. Burns, 40, 1799-1804.

Welsh, J. (2009). ’ It was Like Burning in Hell’: A Comparative Exploration of Acid Attack Violence. ProQuest. Available at (Accessed 28 November 2015)

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