Taking on acid violence
Acid violence is on the rise in the UK, but campaigner Shabina Begum believes it can be eradicated if we all take a stand against it.
A UK campaigner and lawyer working with victims of acid attacks, Shabina Begum made a passionate presentation at the recent Feminism in London (FiL) conference 2013 which left the audience silenced by the horrific tales of acid violence.
According to the Acid Survivors Trust (ASTI), which works towards ending acid violence throughout the world the victims of acid violence are overwhelmingly women and children.
Attackers often aim to maim, disfigure and blind their victims rather than kill them and so target the head and face.
And although it rarely kills, it causes severe pain and physical, psychological and social scarring.
Victims are often left with no legal recourse and limited access to medical or psychological assistance.
The crime is not restricted to any particular race, religion or geographical location.
We most often hear of acid violence attacks occurring in countries other than the UK, but it most definitely happens here.
In the UK there were 44 crimes of acid violence in 2007. In 2011 this had increased to 110. It is a crime which is definitely on the rise, even so, acid violence remains to be recognised as a specific crime in the UK.
The BBC reported recently that experts say that women and girls are victims in 75-80 per cent of cases, and of those female victims, about 30 per cent are under 18.
Katie Piper, who suffered third degree burns after her former boyfriend arranged for someone to throw sulphuric acid in her face in 2008, has since done much to raise awareness of the issue in the UK.
Mohammad Jawad, a plastic surgeon who helped rebuild Katie Piper’s face and works with victims in South Asia, told the BBC it is about trying to destroy someone’s identity.
“The attacker is saying: ‘I don’t want to kill her, I am going to do something to distort her.’ It’s a walking dead situation for the victim and often a grey area in the eyes of the law.”
It is, he added, “an extreme form of domestic violence.”
While the scarring on the face and body of acid violence victims is the most obvious to see, victims are also often left with a loss of senses, not to mention the deep lasting psychological effects acid violence attacks have.
Shabina Begum told us about a woman who was force-fed acid by her husband and her mother-in-law, leaving her unable to speak or to breathe through her nose.
There are four main motivations for acid violence on women: hate, jealousy, business disputes and family disputes.
Cases tend to be prosecuted as offences of grievous bodily harm (GBH) in the UK. In the Crown court this can carry a sentence of life imprisonment but, Begum reported, in reality, perpetrators tend to receive sentences in the region of ten years in custody.
For the victim left with life-long scarring to their face and body, loss of hair, melted features, loss of sight, or touch, or their sense of smell or who no longer able to hear their children’s voices, ten years seems a measly punishment.
I urge you all to visit the You Tube link that we all watched during Shabina Begum’s presentation at the FiL 2013 conference.
It doesn’t make for easy viewing, but it shows you just how horrific this crime is, far better than any words ever will.
Begum asked us to make a promise to tell at least one person about acid violence. I’ve kept my promise.
I ask you to do the same. Will you?
For more information about – or to donate to – the Acid Survivors Trust International, click here.
Follow Shabina Begum @shabz_at_law and Acid Survivors Trust International @Acid_Survivors