The UK now has the highest number of reported acid attacks per person, with 1,800 assaults using corrosive liquid since 2010 in London alone, according to charity Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI).
The number of assaults using acid and corrosive liquids in Britain grew 74 per cent in the most recently recorded year, growing from 261 in 2015 to 454 in 2016.
These figures mean Britain is now the nation “with the highest number of acid attacks per head”, according to ASTI director Jaf Shah, who told French daily Libération the typical victim of assaults using corrosive liquid are women in ‘patriarchal’ societies.
Pakistan, Bangladesh India, and Colombia are the countries most affected by the attacks according to ASTI, France’s Libération reported on Thursday.
But director Jaf Shah cautioned that the record number of attacks recorded in Britain may be down to victims having “more confidence in the UK justice system than in other countries where these attacks are frequent.”
“In societies which are still very patriarchal, [acid] attacks are mostly perpetrated by men against women, for reasons related to a love spat, rejection of sexual advances or refusal of a marriage proposal,” he explained.
The majority of acid attacks target women’s faces, Shah said, noting that this is “symbolic, an attack against their beauty, their femininity.”
“The goal is not to kill but to disfigure them, to stigmatize them socially.”
In Britain however, corrosive liquid has become a weapon of choice in gang warfare, with the majority of attacks carried out by young men on other young men.
“Two thirds of the victims [of acid attacks in Britain] are young men, and criminals are not necessarily just targeting their faces but their torsos too”, Shah said.
The use of acid in attacks is not new. Simon Harding, specialist in gang criminology and professor at the University of Middlesex explained: “Acid attacks were already perpetrated in the 14th century, in Victorian times; it is mentioned in the investigation of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle or, more recently, in the novel Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.”
Harding added: “what is worrying” about the attacks, is “how they have multiplied.”
For gangs, he said, the use of acid has several advantages. It’s two major draws are that it’s easily obtained at any age in a multiplicity of stores, and that there are no legal controls on corrosive liquid.
“It’s an inexpensive weapon that’s hard for investigators to trace,” he said, adding that in terms of criminal prosecution: “A knife attack will be considered attempted murder, resulting in a heavier penalty. Whereas an assault with acid will be considered as bodily harm and punished with a lighter penalty.”
Reporting in March on the huge rise in attacks taking place in London, the BBC said figures show the vast majority of cases never reach trial, with around 74% of investigations having had to be wound down since 2014 due to problems with identifying perpetrators, or victims being unwilling to press charges.