Acid attacks and lifelong scars

April 8, 2016 | 07:57 pm PT
Punishment by law can never make up for the lifelong anguish the victims of acid attacks suffer.

I have an acquaintance whose mother was a victim of an acid attack. Her beautiful face suffered 50 percent scarring after the incident. I had dinner with her once after the incident, and the conversation focused on happier times before the attack and her desire to turn back the clock.

“My husband had to follow me for several years before I accepted his love. That was a long time ago, when I never needed make-up. If I had settled down in Germany, it might have never happened… If I had driven a car as usual…If I had not decided to go for a walk on the day the incident happened…”

After the talk, I realized that all of her hopes and inspirations in life were dashed on that fateful day.

Although she has gradually gotten used to the pain and scars, she will forever be haunted by the person she could have been and the opportunities she would have had if not for that vicious attack. A single can of acid can cause great physical pain and even disabilities, but they are nothing compared to the depression many victims carry for the rest of their lives.

More often than not, the victims' relatives also suffer.

In the above-mentioned case, the nightmare has plagued the victim’s daughter in all aspects of her life. Her mother’s accident made her adopt a negative attitude towards life. She refuses to get married and says no to “her own happy ending”, though she is approaching 40. She wants to spend all her time with her mother to make up for her anguish.

Quite often, readers can catch pieces of news about acid attacks in local newspapers. The reason for most acid attacks in Vietnam is revenge between lovers, and in most cases the victims are female.

The reason behind many cases goes like this: a man falls in love with a beautiful woman, but she either shuns his advances or breaks up with him. For the "heartbroken" man, the best way of exacting revenge is by taking away the one thing he can't have: her beauty, so they resort to acid attacks.

Just two weeks ago, two young girls in Ho Chi Minh City were attacked with acid by two male strangers. One suffered minor burns, while 75 percent of her friend's face was scarred and she will never see through one eye again.

The offenders were quickly arrested and it did not take long for them to admit their crime: Another crime of passion. Both the victims and perpetrators are very young, just in their twenties. Though the offenders’ future may be unsure, they will be able to build new lives again after just a few years in prison. But for the victim who is blind in one eye, her future lays in tatters and is even more painful and cruel than the death.

If someone allows themselves to ruin another person's life with a can of acid, then obviously, they fear no punishment from the law. Their punishment surely cannot make up for the physical and mental scars the victims suffer. In some Muslim countries, victims of acid attacks can ask for retribution: "an eye for an eye".

In 2004, Ameneh Bahrami, an Iranian university student was blinded and disfigured in an acid attack for refusing a rich man’s proposal. In 2008, a Tehran court granted her retribution, allowing her to blind the offender in both eyes with acid. But she decided not to take the man’s sight at the last moment.

Her astonishing bravery drew international attention, and her decision to allow the man to keep his sight has become a symbol for acid victims worldwide. Women do not want revenge on their attackers; they want to raise awareness in their societies.

When I read about acid attacks, I always think of Bahrami and wonder if there is any way at all to spread such tolerance in our society. I have yet to find the answer, but every time I try, my mind is haunted with the eyes of brave Bahrami.

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