The House needs to attack our Acid problem

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan during the launch

The number of violent incidents involving acid and other corrosive substances are increasing in Britain. What is happening and how does our situation compare to those of other countries?

ONS figures indicate that violent crime is up on the up. According to the BBC, the incidents of recorded violent crime increased by 18% from April of last year to March 2017 in England and Wales.

This rise in violent crimes is a real concern, and while all violent crimes are important and in need of being stamped out, acid throwing incidents are one area of violent crime where there has been a significant rise.

Such attacks are a growing problem in Britain. When you think of acid attacks your brain thinks back to images of mutilated faces you saw on the news. Tragically, the victims who survive such horrific attacks must carry on living like that. What could ever possess someone to go out of their way to get acid and then go through the disturbing mental process of planning their attack, and then actually follow through with such violence boggles the mind.

All violent crimes are wrong and damaging both physically and mentally, but there is something deeply disturbing about acid attacks, and worryingly, in Britain, they are on the rise.

The facts in Britain

Statistics obtained by a BBC Freedom of Information request from 37 police forces around the country show a significant increase in recorded incidents. In 2012-2013 there were a total of 183 such attacks. This figure has risen each year since with the figure for 2016-177 being 504.

In London, in 2016-17 there were 208 attacks with 38 having “caused serious injury” and one having led to the death of a victim.

The most recent shocking incident took place in July when five people were attacked with corrosive liquids by two men on the streets of London, according to the Independent.

In terms of punishment for possession the Evening Standard has said that an individual can get up to four years in prison for carrying acid on their person.

These numbers are of course small in real terms and when compared to other violent crimes with weapons such as knives, but the trend that they are rising is something that needs to be countered.

As for why such attacks are happening in the UK, Dr Simon Harding, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Middlesex University, spoke to Vice saying that:

"Acid is now a fashionable weapon of choice for criminals and gang members, to exert control, to keep people in line and for revenge attacks."

He went on to say that:

"Young gang members are always looking for a way of gaining notoriety and 'street capital'. So in the criminal world, to eradicate an enemy's future by disfiguring them, you are quids in. It's a horrible development."

What is being done about acid attacks?

There is clearly a need for stricter measures to reduce these attacks including harsher sentencing as well as stronger preventative measures, so what changes are being discussed?

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for a “zero-tolerance approach” when it comes to acid attacks, as reported by the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has written in the Times saying that while perpetrators of such violent crimes can already face up to life imprisonment, depending on the case, she will be launching a “wide-ranging review of the law enforcement and criminal justice response, of existing legislation, of access to harmful products and of the support offered to victims”. She also stated that her department would work to clamp-down on sales of dangerous substances.

Meanwhile, Jaf Shah of the Acid Survivors Trust International, has called for stricter purchasing controls when it comes to such dangerous substances consumers should only be able to purchase them if they have a license, according to the BBC.

An international comparison

Acid attacks are of course not unique to Britain.

In 2010, the BBC reported an incident in the city of Hong Kong involving just two bottles of acid, which left 30 people injured.

Also in Asia, according to the Acid Survivors Foundation, there were 3,347 incidents involving acid in Bangladesh between 1999 and 2016. In welcome news, the figures have been decreasing in recent years with only 44 incidents taking place in 2016 compared to the 122 in 2010 and the staggering 494 in 2002. However, there is still a long way to go to eradicate such attacks in the country.

Meanwhile, a report by a variety of organisations including the Avon Global Centre for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School and the Virtue Foundation found that women are affected by such attacks “disproportionately” in India Bangladesh and Cambodia. The report highlights a study which found that in a striking 17% of analysed cases, acid throwing attacks were inflicted on women by their husbands.

It appears that in much of the world, acid is used against women by men, but in Britain, the BBC reported that males are two times more at risk of acid throwing in the country’s capital than women.

What next?

On acid attacks, steps are being made in the right direction in order to tackle the problem. We can only hope that new measures make a real difference to the numbers and the lives of those at risk of being affected. Our legislators need to quickly get their House in order on this matter.

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