For the first time, England and Wales has seen more women than men become victims of acid attacks. This is part of a “worrying trend” as acid attacks against women increase.
In 2022, 339 women were targeted as compared to 317 men, which is a 69% increase compared to 2021. This is a reversal after previous years had seen a decline following the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, which made possessing a corrosive substance in public an offence.
However, Mr Jaf Shah, the executive director of the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), explained there remains a lack of awareness amongst suppliers and retailers: ‘We have introduced tighter controls around the purchasing of particularly severe corrosive substances, yet perpetrators are still managing to get access to them. That raises questions over how sufficiently robust the sales controls or access to dangerous chemicals are… I think we need to be having discussions with retailers and manufacturers. Are these perpetrators obtaining access from shops online? Where are they sourcing these substances from?’
ASTI estimates that acid attacks cost Britain £44 million in 2022, with a single attack costing on average £63,000. This includes medical and psychosocial support, and the costs to the police, judicial and penal systems.
According to Mr Shah, it is not uncommon for a survivor to undergo 50, 70 or even 100 procedures over five or seven years. Furthermore, many survivors face ongoing issues of depression and severe cases of social isolation due to severe facial scarring. He explains, ‘Changes of appearance in a very severe and very sudden way elicits a strong psychological response.’
Mr Shah called for investment from the Government to tackle the “root causes” of acid attacks in order to prevent them from occurring.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alexis Boon QPM, National Police Chiefs Council lead for corrosive substances, said that education is the way to prevent these attacks: ‘Through education, we need to make sure people understand the appalling consequences of such crimes, to those subject to such attacks, their families, and the perpetrator themselves, to prevent these crimes happening in the first place.’