Jocalyn Clark urges the global health community to press for high level change in legislation regarding acid violence.
At a recent social function benefiting the Acid Survivors Foundation, I learned about an insidious worldwide problem that barely figures on the global health radar, but should.
Acid violence, sometimes called acid throwing or an acid attack, involves throwing or pouring acid onto a person with the intent of killing or maiming them. The effects are heinous: the corrosive acid, usually sulfuric or nitric acid but sometimes bleach or petrol, melts skin, the eyes, ears, and bone, disfiguring the victim and often destroying their ability to speak, eat, see, and hear. The mental health consequences are as bad as the physical, it is reported, especially if the perpetrator is someone known to the victim, like a boyfriend, husband, or father. Fear, anxiety, depression, the inability to work or go to school, and the social isolation and stigma associated with disfigurement are wide ranging effects that greatly impact victims. They are often abandoned by their families and communities, and physical disfigurement is often permanent. Meeting several acid violence survivors at the charity event, and reading the Foundation’s materials that included photographs of others – mostly young girls; I found this heartbreaking.
That acid violence almost entirely affects women, and that the acid is thrown at the face to destroy what is seen by many as a woman’s most important asset, her beauty, makes it a particularly horrific form of gender-based violence. Acid violence is often retaliation for women exercising rights such as spurning sexual advances or rejecting a marriage proposal, or to do with family land or dowry demands. In other words, it’s a true denigration of a woman’s rights and identity.