Stolen Faces

By: Alexandra Kinias

It’s not just the brutality of the acid attacks, the images of the maimed and disfigured faces or the agonizing testimonials of women who survived this heinous crimes that keep me awake at night, but  also the incompetence of the governments to protect women and the negligence to bring  criminals to justice  add more horror to my nightmares.

Vitrolage, throwing acid on women’s faces with the sole purpose of deforming them is a common act of terrorism against women practiced all over the world. However, it is notably widespread in South East Asia from Afghanistan to Cambodia. The attacks are mostly carried out by husbands, boyfriends and rejected suitors. In Afghanistan incidents are reported that the Taliban target girls who dare to attend school.

Underprivileged young women drowning in poverty view marriage as a refuge for improving the conditions they are living in. Their faces are their only assets they own that guarantee them a husband and that’s why their faces are targeted. By disfiguring their physical attractiveness, acid throwers rob them a decent future and destine them to a life of misery and shame, for the simple reason of not yielding to their threats. In such cultures, only the message of fear and submission resonate in the minds of the young girls as they witness women being maimed for believing they can express their voice, stand out for their rights to go to school or end a marriage, sometimes they were forced into. The price for free choice for these women is very high.

Sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, the weapons used to carry out these cruel crimes, are sold in the streets without government control, as cheap as few cents a liter. Once thrown onto the face of women, some as young as fifteen years old, it burns the skin, melts the bones, blinds if sprayed on the eyes and condemns the victim to a lifetime of trauma and misery.  Most of these attacks go unreported in fear of further retaliation. In these countries the bribery and corruption of police officers and judges guarantee the freedom of the attackers. Only a handful of the few cases that are reported come to a closure where the criminals are brought to justice, probably to satisfy the organizations that are fighting for the cause. It is ironic that in Bangladesh where the punishment for acid throwers is the death penalty, the rate of the crimes is increasing.

Because women in these societies are considered cheap commodities with no rights, victims of the attacks endure the pain and shame of these crimes alone, often ostracized from their community and families. Some women went through as many as twenty five reconstructive surgeries, yet after this long painful journey, they never attained their looks again, and they will never do. The psychological challenge of coping with their new images is grave.

In these male dominant societies, governments turn a blind eye on the atrocities women are subjected to. Since most of these women live under poverty levels, the expenses of the surgeries and counseling are paid by NGOs and charitable organizations that are carrying the burden to supply moral, medical and financial support to the victims. They are also giving a voice to these women by publicizing the magnitude of the crimes for the world to take note, in an effort to put international pressure on the governments to react.  That might help end the silence and culture of impunity surrounding this kind of terrorism. Unless the systems that are harboring these criminals change and the governments take responsibility to fight them, this act of terror against women will continue. And more lives will be destroyed.

To read more about the Acid Attacks:

Iranian acid attack victim pardons culprit

Terrorism that’s personal

Acid attacks: Facing a heinous crime

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