Frequently Asked Questions
Acid violence refers to the premeditated act of throwing corrosive acid on the face and body, with the intent to disfigure, torture, or kill the victim. The acid melts the flesh, sometimes to the bone, and causes lifelong scarring, physical disfigurement, and in some cases, permanent disability including blindness and immobility. Acid violence not only has a significant physical impact, but causes intense psychological distress, with survivors frequently reporting depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Although acid throwing is a form of violence known to have been committed throughout history, there is a steep rise in the number of cases documented in recent years. Some of this increase has been attributed to better documentation and survivors reporting the attacks more often. However, there appears to be a substantive increase in the number of acid attacks committed in recent times.
Reliable statistics on the prevalence of acid attacks are difficult to find. This is because governments do not always keep official statistics of acid attacks and many survivors do not report the attacks. That said, research by Acid Survivors Foundation Bangladesh indicated that since 1999, there have been 3000 reported cases of acid violence. The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity tracked 271 acid violence cases between 1985 and June 2010.
Research indicates the most effective ways of reducing acid violence is through regulation of the sale of acid, tougher jail sentences for perpetrators, and raising awareness of the devastating impact that acid attacks have on individuals and their families. (Please see advocacy section for more on this.)
Most acid attacks are perpetrated by people known to the victims, and the attacks are often triggered by conflicts within relationships. These may include a woman being attacked after rejecting a marriage proposal , men being attack based on land disputes, or individuals being attacked based on political affiliation. The vast majority of attacks are against women and children, comprising of 75% (UNIFEM, 2012), with 95% of the perpetrators being men. According to research conducted by Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda, the most frequently cited reasons for acid attacks were conflict within a relationship and conflicts related to business or property disputes. Approximately one third had an “unknown” cause, reflecting the fact that there was little or no evidence or record of the attacks. It is also important to note that within Uganda, burn assaults are often used as a form of punishment. The aim is to leave a scar as a reminder of the offense so that children do not do that in the future.
Skull: may be partly destroyed or deformed; hair is often lost
Ears: deafness may occur immediately or after; cartilage in the ear is usually partly or totally destroyed, exposing the victim to future infection and hearing loss
Eyes: direct acid contact or acid vapors can damage eyes, causing blindness; even if the eyes survive the attack, they remain vulnerable to other threats that can cause blindness
Eyelids: may have been burned off or deformed, leaving the eyes to dry up and go blind
Nose: shrunken and deformed; nostrils may close completely because the cartilage is destroyed
Mouth: shrunken and narrowed, and may lose its shape; lips may be partly or totally destroyed; lips may be permanently flared, exposing the teeth; movement of the lips, mouth and face may be impaired; eating can be difficult
Chin: scarred and deformed; scars may run downward, welding the chin to the neck or chest
Neck: often badly damaged, sometimes leaving the person unable to extend the neck or straighten the head
Chest: often badly scarred; inhalation of acid vapors can create breathing problems; in girls and young women, the breasts may stop developing or be destroyed
Shoulders: may be badly scarred, which can limit the person’s arm movement
Source: Acid Violence in Uganda: A Situational Analysis, Acid Survivors’ Foundation Uganda
Many people use the terms interchangeably. However, acid violence is a broader term that refers to the use of acid to cause harm to another person. This may include forcing them to drink or otherwise ingest the acid. Acid attacks are one type of acid violence and typically involve throwing or pouring of acid.
The most common type of acid used is sulpheric acid, which is used in car batteries and is easily available in car garages and car battery stores. In Uganda, one liter of concentrated sulpheric acid can cost as little as one US dollar. Nitric and hydrochloric acid are also sometimes used.
Acid violence occurs around the globe. It is not specific to race, religion, socioeconomic status, or geographic location. Countries where acid attacks have been reported most frequently are Pakistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Uganda. Research also indicates that acid attacks are more frequent in poor countries. That said, acid attacks happen in some of the most economically developed countries in the world, including the US, England, and Japan.
Changing Faces : The Challenge of Facial Disfigurement, James Partridge
Beautiful, Katie Piper
Priya’s Mirror, Ram Devineni, Paromita Vohra, Art by Dan Goldman
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu-Dunn
Burning Injustice: A Rights Advocacy Manual for Lawyers, Activists and Survivors on Acid Violence in India, Kerry McBroom and Salina Wilson
Beauty of Life, 2017, Ashish Kumar
Fight Acid Violence, 2014 WVN Online Film Festival
Saving Face, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Daniel Junge (Pakistan)
Newborns, Megha Ramaswamy (India)
Scarred, Sarah Thomas (India 2014)
Café Sheroes: Life After an Acid Attack, Alyona Simikina (India 2016)
Without a Face, Izabella Demavlys
Leave Me Alone, Khaled Hasan (2014)
IN/VISIBLE, Ann Christine Woehrl
How many acid attacks are there?, Tom de Castella, BBC News Magazine
Afghan Girls, Scarred by Acid, Defy Terror, Embracing School, Dexter Filkins, New York Times
Acid Attacks: A Horrific Crime on the Increase Worldwide, Samrira Shackle, New Statesman
Acid Attacks Still a Burning Issue in India, Neeta Lal, Interpress Service News Agency
100 Women: The Salon Helping Acid Attack Victims, Shaimaa Khalil, BBC News
Acid Violence in Uganda: A Situational Analysis, Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda
Acid Attack Victim Speaks Out
Japanese police make arrest amid string of acid attacks on women
Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia, Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, Committee on International Human Rights of the New York City Bar Association, Cornell Law
Assessing the State of Acid Violence in Bangladesh, Biplob Kanti Mondal