I have tried to start writing this piece so many times I’ve lost count. This is new for me. Most of the time if I’m trying to make sense of something words are my “go to,” my standard mode of processing. And yet, here I am stuttering and stammering and starting over again and again, and I think the trouble is that when it comes to “acid attacks” I don’t want to process it. My head and my heart (and honestly my stomach) want to find a way out of it- a way to make it untrue.
But here we are, and it is true, and so the only thing left to do is to choose not to look away, to choose to see the victims, to embrace them, share their stories, empower them to live lives of hope, and then pray that the violence stops (well that’s not all you can do, but I’ll get to that later on).
“Acid attack” or “acid throwing” is a form of gender violence that occurs all over the world today, with highest incidences being recorded in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Uganda, Pakistan, and India. “78 percent of reported acid violence happens to women, with the most common reasons for attack being the refusal of marriage, the denial of sex, and the rejection of romance.” (Swanson, pg. 84) Sulfuric acid which is readily available and cheaply purchased, is flung at a victim often in the middle of the night, and directed at her face in order to being to visibly maim or disfigure her. The woman is often left blinded, in need of serious medical attention that is difficult to come by and even harder to pay for, and if she lives through the incident her life is forever changed.
Survivors are left horribly disfigured, which means that on top of the pain and trauma of the attack itself, they are saddled with crippling financial and relational burdens for the rest of their lives. In Southeast Asia, where many of these attacks take place the Buddhist philosophy of karma is a taken for granted cultural truth that further isolates these women by explaining their being targeted as payment for a sin committed in one of their past lives. For this reason, it is not uncommon for survivors to be publicly ridiculed, beaten, and even sexually assaulted on a regular basis.
Are you starting to feel the weight of what I’m sharing with you yet? Not only are we talking about a form of violence that is targeting beautiful and successful women with the goal of destroying their futures by inflicting unthinkable pain, but we are dealing with cultural mindsets with deep roots.
What Needs to Change
ASF, and organizations like it, have landed on a five-prong approach to address acid violence in all of its complexity:
- public awareness
- case reporting
- short-term treatment
- long-term treatment
- legal justice
Plainly put, progress needs to be made to further educate the public in the most vulnerable communities about what to do in the event of an attack; to encourage victims to come forward; to make medical treatment for burn victims more readily available and affordable; to provide long-term care opportunities for survivors and their families; and to identify and prosecute attackers to the full extent of the law.
Ready for some HOPE?
I first heard the term “acid attacks” when I began my work as a Compassionate Entrepreneur with Trades of Hope. Trades of Hope partners with a group of acid attack survivors in Cambodia, providing a market for their handmade goods that is giving them the opportunity to earn a sustainable income, and along with it, hope for a future beyond their pain. Despite the scars they carry on their bodies and their hearts, despite the danger and adversity that they still encounter on a daily basis, these women are rebuilding their lives with their own two hands, and I am honored to call them my business partners. This work is so much more than a much-needed way to earn some money- It is replacing isolation with comradery, shame with self-respect, and giving these women the opportunity to rediscover their value as women all over the world find beauty in the things that they create.
To support this community of women you can go to www.mytradesofhope.com/jolynngraubart and type “Cambodia” in the search bar. If you’d like to learn even more about this group of women, and meet the group’s leader/mentor Ya, you can watch this video on youtube.com, “Talking with Trades of Hope Artisans in Cambodia.”
What else can you do? You can reach out to organizations like Acid Survivors Trust International or Acid Survivors Foundation who are always in need of individual and corporate donations as well as volunteers who would like to offer any expertise that might be valuable in the rehabilitation process.
Swanson, Jordan. “Acid Attacks: Bangladesh’s Efforts to Stop the Violence.” Hhpronline.org. Harvard University, Spring 2002. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.
Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.