A spate of acid attacks has earned the UK the dubious recent distinction of being called “the acid capital of the world”.

If a woman dares to turn down a male for sex or his relationship advances, they are more likely than in any other country to be sprayed with acid.

Acid attacks have seen a concerning 69% increase in a single year, marking a distressing shift with female victims surpassing male victims for the first time, according to a report by the charity Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI).

Data collected from police forces across England and Wales revealed a total of 710 acid attacks in the past year, compared to 421 in the preceding year (2021). The true figures may be significantly higher, as several “key police forces,” including Police Scotland and Thames Valley Police, did not respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for this data.

These attacks are notorious for causing immediate and excruciating pain, often leaving victims with life-altering disabilities. Despite a decline in the number of attacks following a peak in 2017 when 941 cases were recorded, the figures spiked in the most recent year.

In this increase, 339 attacks targeted women, while 317 targeted men, with 48 cases not specifying the gender of the victim. In contrast, 2021 witnessed 172 attacks against women and 227 against men.

The majority of attacks occurred in Northumbria (183), followed by London (163) and Merseyside (116).

ASTI estimates that a single acid attack generates costs of £63,000, covering medical expenses and necessary psychosocial support for victims, as well as expenses related to the police, the judiciary, and penal systems. In 2022, the total economic cost of these attacks exceeded £44 million. Over the six years that ASTI has been recording data, the cumulative cost is nearly a quarter of a billion pounds.

The UK stands out as having the highest number of recorded acid attacks globally, necessitating a critical focus on prevention. Jaf Shah, Executive Director at ASTI, emphasised the urgent need to address the root causes of acid violence to eliminate it.

In response to this concerning trend, ASTI has initiated a prevention program aimed at educating young people about the risks and consequences of acid attacks. Additionally, they have launched a digital graphic novel featuring stories centered around acid attacks, with a focus on the perpetrators.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alexis Boon QPM, NPCC lead for corrosive substances, highlighted the devastating impact of corrosive substance-related crimes and stressed the importance of education to deter these crimes from occurring in the first place.

The Home Office acknowledged the gravity of these attacks and underscored government efforts to combat them through legal measures, including restrictions on the sale and possession of corrosive products. They are working closely with law enforcement agencies and retailers to curb access to harmful substances, thereby preventing such heinous acts in society.

Boys, men, need strong education programmes

None of the policies and interventions aimed at responding to acid violence have engaged meaningfully with this fact. Proactive prevention strategies must involve sensitising men and boys to the effects of gender-based violence, including acid attacks, and incorporating them into prevention activities.

Such approaches should be prioritized—or at least simultaneously implemented—as reactive strategies such as policing acid sellers and purchasers and seeking longer jail sentences for perpetrators, which countries like Great Britain, Italy, Bangladesh and India are currently pursuing.

Perpetrators use acid because it is easy to purchase, easier to use than knives or guns, and because it has devastating consequences for victims. Perpetrators also use other corrosive substances to disfigure their victims. This is true for recent attacks in the U.K. and across the world.

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