Just as London’s youth begins to regain confidence in going out on the streets of London at night, a new kind of terror is emerging. A silent, but deadly form of terrorism in the shape of acid attacks. London acid attacks, it seems, have started to become out of control, with 720 cases recorded in 2016 alone, double the number from three years prior.
Recent London Acid Attacks
The horror of the London acid attacks has been thrust into the limelight over the last few days. After a spate of attacks last week, a 16-year-old boy has been charged with up to 15 separate offences. These include robbery, attempted robbery, possession of a noxious substance and five counts of attempted grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent.
All of the victims of last week’s attacks were riding mopeds and the motive of the senseless attacks appears to have been robbery. Jabed Hussain was one of the five victims of last Thursday’s attack. He said that his helmet had saved him from the worst of the injuries, but added, “I took off my helmet and I was just screaming for help because it’s getting dry and as much as it’s getting dry it’s burning.”
London Acid Attacks History
21-year-old Resham Khan was victim of an acid attack by a white man on June 21 in East London (File: Resham Khan/change.org)
While these latest attacks have brought the issue into focus, the London acid attacks actually have a long history. They also extend beyond the capital to the West Midlands, Northumbria and Essex. But the number is rising fast. In a city getting used to acts of terror, the latest London acid attacks are unsurprisingly connected by many with religious minorities. However, that is not the case.
Head of Acid Survivors Trust International, Jaf Shah, explains that acid attacks have been happening in the UK for over 200 years. They just haven’t been so well covered in the press until now. They have, however, been noted in popular fiction, such as Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, in which the main character walks around with a bottle of acid for his own protection.
London acid attacks were in fact linked to the industrial era and were fairly common throughout the industrial revolution, where the substance was used to treat cotton and metals. An 1832 journal described London acid attacks as a “stain on the national character.” The first ever recorded attack was in 1833, on a 21-year-old man as he slept.
So, for those quick to blame eastern groups or religious minorities, this would be erroneous. In fact, many of the victims include ethnic minorities. The motives for the attacks vary, from simple robbery to hate crimes.
There have also been a number of vicious acid attacks from men on women, as well as some completely unprovoked incidences. However, lately a different trend has been emerging, with almost two thirds of the London acid attacks victims being male, contrary to global patterns.
The Implications for Victims of Attacks
The implications for acid victims can be life-changing and even deadly. Depending on the severity of the acid attack and the quality of the substance used, the degree of burning and corrosion will vary. Many survivors undergo hundreds of corrective surgeries over years and their lives will forever be changed with permanent physical and emotional damage.
Victims may experience depression, isolation, anxiety and panic attacks as they come to terms with their facial disfigurement. The road to recovery is long.
What Can Be Done To Prevent Further Attacks?
According to Mr. Shah, greater education is needed to reach the affected communities. He says, “We need to educate and work with young men and boys to bring about change because clearly we have a problem with young men resorting to violence and using acid as a weapon of choice.”
Reactions from Westminster have been slow, but parliament are in session this week to discuss reforming current regulations around the selling of corrosive substances. As well as calling for steeper sentences for perpetrators. Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, remarked, “I am clear that life sentences must not be reserved for acid attack survivors.”
This reaction was in response to last week’s attacks on five victims, one of which remains with life-changing injuries. Existing laws are also being reviewed. Seeing as how many of those responsible are minors, introducing age restrictions may be enforced, as well as life sentences. However, no new legislation has of yet been passed.