When Liquid Becomes Fire: Acid Attacks

Imagine that you are at home, baking chocolate chip cookies. The smell of molasses and chocolate perfumes the air and fills the room with comforting warmth. The kitchen timer goes off with a shrill beep! You slip on a pair of oven mitts, brave the explosion of heat that the oven expels, and pull the cookie sheet off the top rack. The blobs of cookies are puffy, steaming, and smell divine. After you let them rest for a second, you go to shovel them onto a strip of aluminum foil. Without thinking, you reach for the cookie sheet with a now bare hand. Searing, sharp pain sizzles on your fingertips, and you instantly jerk your hand back, yelping “Ouch!” Even though your flesh is no longer in contact with the hot metal, hot pain still burns through your fingers.

Now imagine that type of pain blazing across your head, face, arms, and perhaps your entire body.

Understanding Acid Attacks

Too many women, men, and children experience pain like this—but the pain is intentionally inflicted and stems from caustic chemicals rather than cookie sheets. The childhood friend of Becky McDonald—WAR, Int’l’s founder and president—was one victim. She was fourteen years old when a man poured acid down her throat to silence her cries as he raped her—an event that became the cornerstone moment of WAR, Int’l.

Acid attacks—also known as acid throwing, vitriolage, and vitriol attacks—are a truly evil form of violence. The perpetrator flings nitric, sulfuric, or hydrochloric acid at the head and face of the victim. The result is extreme pain and horrifying damage—damage not just to the physical form but to the mind and social status, as well. The attacks impede independence (due to disabilities), work opportunities (due to social ostracization), and marriage prospects (a life sentence to poverty in developing countries). Survivors also suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem (Punjab Acad 2013).

This category of crime does have a gender bias; in many (but not all) countries where the attacks are prevalent, women and girls are the most typical targets (Waldron, et. al 2014). Even so, both men and women can be offenders and victims. In 2010, a woman-on-woman attack occurred in Vancouver, Washington. A stranger tossed the corrosive fluid onto 28-year-old Bethany Storro, likely as an act of jealousy.

Though acid attacks like this have occurred in the United States, they’re infrequent enough to be considered anecdotal, painting a sharp contrast against less developed countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Colombia, where acid is cheap and easy to find. The actual numbers are uncertain; rural settings and climates of fear result in unreported incidents. However, as is the case with any violent crime, the numbers are far higher than they should be, over a thousand attacks per year worldwide (de Castella, Tom 2013).

The Response to Acid Attacks

The natural human response to such atrocities is to ask “Why would someone ever do this?” Attacker motivations vary, but there are some common trends. Perhaps the victim rejected the perpetrator’s marriage proposal or sexual advance. Perhaps there was a domestic or property dispute. Perhaps the perpetrator felt jealous toward the victim, as was the case in Bethany Storro’s attack. Perhaps some dowry demands went unfulfilled. Whatever the case, “’the perpetrator wants the person to suffer for the rest of their lives,’” as stated Brad Garrett, former FBI profiler (Dolak, Von Fremd, & Ferran 2010).

Luckily, countries are striving to take action against this brand of violent crime. But wherever the hand of legislature falls short, we at WAR, Int’l believe that God can fill in the gaps, using His people as vessels. In 2013, Becky McDonald met with an acid attack survivor at her bedside. The patient was in a coma; doctors said she wouldn’t hear Becky’s voice. Nevertheless, she took the woman’s hand and prayed over her in Bengal. Minutes later, the patient opened and locked eyes with Becky. She not only heard but also understood what Becky said, as she spoke words of encouragement, hope, and love.

While you may not be able to meet with survivors, you can become a voice and a beacon of hope for them. WAR, Int’l works with the Acid Survivors Foundation in Bangladesh, and your charitable donation will advocate for and assist the victims—medically, psychologically, and legally. Additionally, you can “be the change you wish to see in the world,” as Mahatma Gandhi once said. Disrespect plays a significant role in acid attacks, so value every person with whom you come in to contact. When you do this, you will set a powerful example for the rest of the world to see.