Melting Scars (Acid Attacks: The Reality We Disregard)

The first time I heard about acid attacks was over a decade ago. At that time, I walked into my home to see my mother’s livid face: A face filled with sadness, hopelessness, and most of all, burning anguish. She told me of a woman who was attacked by her ‘lover’. He had poured acid on her face and parts of her body. According to researchers, one of the most common motives for an acid attack is relationship problems. Activists say female victims have a particularly tricky time seeking justice: this is partly due to women being seen as adulterers  who brought on the attacks themselves. Another reason it is difficult for women to get justice is due to conflict over money and/or property.

In the wake of acid attacks, victims -- often women -- can feel hopeless. An acid attack 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.

Whenever acid attack stories come out, it horrifies Ethiopia’s reserved and conservative society and cast a searing light on a hidden culture of violence against women. But why do they happen? As a ‘rational’ thinker I have tried to understand the perpetrator’s state of mind. Although I do not agree with it, I understand that anger can make us perform things that we usually would not associate ourselves with doing. In anger, people have fought, hit, and killed: this is different. Acid isn’t what you pick up from your kitchen shelf. It needs intent, deep rooted hate or vengeance. It needs money to go and buy it. Knowing that they will never be the same, it needs the courage to pour it on someone else’s face.  

The sad and worrisome reality of this insane and inhumane act is the increasing numbers: it is the idea that acid throwing is becoming a trend. Since a decade ago, where, supposedly, the first acid attack had occurred in Ethiopia, such types of incidents have increased. The sad realities that we live in have been allowing people [the vast majority being mainly men] gouge women's eyes and pour acid on their bodies.

Our society faces many obstacles in trying to eradicate this problem, one of which is our inability to take action. We lack the conviction to punish the perpetrators. We forget that punishing the perpetrators serves a greater purpose than merely presenting a remedy to the crime at hand. Punishment will show others that they too will suffer irreversible consequences for their actions. According to Chapter 2, Article 553 of the criminal code, the sentencing for acid attack perpetrators is 1 to 10 years. However, people have reported that many walk free with no punishment or sentencing at all. While acid throwing continues to increase, the government continues to lose its citizens in trying to convince them it cares.   

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. Now is the time to take action and to walk the talk. To protect our women and our girls from being on the receiving end of the same inhuman acts her predecessors faced. In Ethiopia, we are in need for stricter laws, otherwise we will still be talking about acid attacks for years to come as new issue. It is time for our society and our governments to show women they  matter. #MeTooEthiopia have created a petition addressing these issues to the Ethiopian government. Sign the petition and make an impact here.

Written by Michael G. Behailu (IG:@michaelson_official)

Art/Illustration by BalaAbyssinia