Acid attacks are gruesome crimes


It used to be that acid attacks were typically carried out in south Asia by men to disfigure women as a form of punishment for mainly romantic disputes and family honor. But there has been a sharp rise in acid attacks in, of all places, the UK with 454 reported last year, up from 261 in 2015. Increasingly carried out by street gangs, the majority of victims and the majority of the suspects are young males. In response to this dramatic increase in acid attacks across Britain, especially London, the government plans to ban the sale of acid to under 18s and prevent people from carrying corrosive liquids in public. It’s a good first step. Throwing acid at someone’s face or body is a horrendous crime. The intention is for someone to live with the disfigurement for the rest of their lives. It causes lasting physical and emotional damage. Victims never fully recover and lives are often ruined.

In the UK, it is legal to purchase strong acid. Many of the attacks are carried out with everyday cleaning items readily available at grocery and any do-it-yourself stores. Up until the ban on minors, there were no age restrictions on buying household bleach or drain cleaning products containing acid. They could be bought online.

UK law is also lax on acid. It’s difficult to prove any illegal motive in carrying it and you can hide it or disguise it in a soft drinks bottle. The charges are more serious if you are caught with a knife and prison sentences are much higher. A knife attack is attempted murder, but if you were caught in an acid attack it would be grievous bodily harm, a lesser charge.

Amazingly, there’s no specific offense regarding acid attacks, one reason why the vast majority of cases in Britain never reach trial. The new plans to tackle the sale of corrosive substances would be similar to the law involving knives, which bans the sale to anyone under the age of 18 and carries a penalty of six months in prison, or a fine.

Throwing acid on an individual has usually been associated with the Indian subcontinent. Around 300 acid attacks were reported in India in 2015, according to the latest official crime figures, which experts say represent only the tip of the iceberg. However, it is a spreading phenomenon. Last month, four American female tourists were attacked with acid at a Marseille train station in southern France. In Colombia, said to be one of the countries worst affected by acid attacks, about 100 women get disfigured in acid attacks every year. It has also happened in Saudi Arabia. In Jeddah in July police arrested a Syrian man in his 30s who threw acid at random women in shopping centers.

Acid is becoming a preferred weapon for gangs in Britain mainly because it is easy to obtain. It is becoming a weapon of first choice, much like how terrorists have been using cars and trucks to run over their victims.

While reported acid attacks in Britain have seen a significant rise in percentage terms, the number of incidents compared with knife crime is small. But the recent surge is worrying, leading to the government crackdown on acid sales.

There are calls for a life sentence for perpetrators of acid attacks, which seems only fair because many victims are in effect given a life sentence because of their injuries. Victims feel as though they are burning alive. Acid attacks can disfigure their victims profoundly, maiming and scaring them for life, leaving them with both physical and psychologically life-changing injuries. They go through endless surgeries and many contemplate suicide. On top of the trauma of the attack, they suffer discrimination, struggle to find work and are socially stigmatized. It is as gruesome a crime as can be imagined.