Tuesday, July 2, 2013


An acid attack survivor in Cambodia
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“Girl succumbs to injuries from acid attacks”
 “24-year-old critical after acid attack”
“Girl commits suicide after acid attack”

There is no dearth of news reports of sordid events of such a kind. Violence against women seems to be an unabashed, untrammelled occurrence – whether in the form of rape, or in the form of acid attacks. One wonders what this ill-conceived notion of patriarchy is, that a woman’s face is so easily treated as the equivalent of a tiled bathroom floor. As if it is not bad enough that a woman has to be put on the spot for the way she looks, men think they can alter the way she looks for reasons best known to them, by defacing them.

Acid attacks are fairly common occurrences in many parts of the world - not that this is intended to be a statement in the light of one speaking about pizza chains being common. They are often carried out as hate or vengeful crimes where a woman who has rejected the advances of a man might be the one at the receiving end of the attack, or sometimes, as dowry crimes and assaults as part of domestic violence.

What happens in an acid attack?
Acids are corrosive substances. The moment they meet skin, they begin to corrode it, burning it into an acrid lump of flesh. The severity of damage that is felt ultimately depends on the concentration of the acid itself, and the amount of time that lapses before the acid is thoroughly washed off with water, or neutralized with a neutralizing agent. The moment acid touches skin, it corrodes the skin, the layer of fat beneath the skin, and if it is not stopped by neutralization or washing off, the acid can corrode he bone. 

When on the face, acids may destroy the physical features, eroding the eyes, lips, nose and even ears. Depending on how much acid falls on the body and face, the damage can range anywhere from corrosion of features and skin, to even death after a protracted battle. When the victim survives the attack, life isn’t easy. Right from physical challenges that need surgical intervention to be set right to psycho-social rehabilitation, there are plenty of hurdles in a survivor’s path. Often, the suffering of the survivor is doubled. As doctors, individually, we do our best to save a patient who comes into our care. But sometimes, there is a bigger system in play, and a lot of doctors step back the moment they know that a person is a victim of a criminal case. Moreover, nearly all these victims that come to the government hospital are not in a position to afford legal help, nor are they in a position to call the shots with the medical aid they need.

Medical treatment
Most commonly available acids that are used to attack victims are hydrochloric, sulphuric, or nitric acid, which quickly burns through flesh and bone. Consequently, there is need for attention to the damage caused by the corrosive agents that these acids are. Immediately, or at least as soon as possible, the acid needs to be washed off. If it is not washed off immediately, the acid remains corrosive. The deeper it penetrates, the more damage it can cause in the form of skeletal, muscular or flesh damage, and even cause organ failure. So delay has to absolutely be ruled out. The dead skin must be removed immediately. If it is not removed within four or five days of the attack, the new skin may grow and wind up being the cause of further facial deformities. Where there is burned skin tissue around joint areas, it must be removed to facilitate movement. 
Skin may grow back in some areas, such as over eyelids or nostrils of victims. But, if the dead skin or burned skin is not removed, lumps may form. Severe pain and disabilities need to be averted. For this, acid burn victims need many surgeries and plenty of therapy at each stage to ensure that scarred tissue remains elastic and does not harm the other parts of the body that are fit. 

Criminalising the victim
A lot has been said and done about how the country is furious about a lack of attention to the cause of violence against women. Most blame the security sector – the police and the legal wing – for its inaction. There is often a lot of apathy towards such victims. There are instances where the police have refused to register cases, though the victims have been attacked on multiple occasions. On many occasions, these women are found running from pillar to post, as they simply don’t get enough medical attention. 

How do you defend yourself against an acid attack?
Though an acid attack is not very much that one can defend themselves against – especially seeing as how much damage a few drops can cause. Nevertheless, here are a few pointers you could do well to know about.
-          Stay away from desolate areas: Though an attacker isn’t necessarily bothered about the whereabouts if he has decided to attack, be sure to keep to a crowded place where you are not already vulnerable by location, to an attack.
-          Wear more clothes: Use a jacket to cover your arms, and cover your face, whether with a dupatta or a scarf, or even a hoodie. Clothes cannot completely protect you, yes, but it is one level between the acid and your face that you can peel off quickly if you’re good with your reflexes.
-          Use sunglasses. Throw style out of the window and get yourself fairly huge sun glasses. The bigger they are the better sheath of protection they offer for your eyes. Remember, if the acid falls directly on your eyes, it can wind up costing you a lifetime of vision.
-          Use books and files. Make sure to carry a book or a file – a fairly thick one at that – in your hands. The moment you apprehend a possible attack, you can swing it to cover your face and minimize the damage.
-          Use a self-driven mode of transport as much as you can, rather than walking or public transport, if you can help it.