Scarred by Society: Addressing the Stigma of Acid Violence

Scarred by Society: Addressing the Stigma of Acid Violence

Acid Violence

Acid attack was recognized as a separate offense in India after the implementation of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, of 2013. However, it has been prevalent around the globe since the 17th century AD with the first recorded case occurring in France. By the time of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, acid was readily available, and people began using it for violent purposes in Europe as well as the USA. A sharp rise in the number of acid attacks could be seen as in 1879 ‘a wave of vitriolage’ involving 16 cases was reported in France. According to Shapiro (1996) in several of these cases, women had perpetrated against men who had impregnated them, or against their cheating husbands and their mistresses.

The popular media referred to these cases as ‘crimes of passion’ and they often involved acquittal of the offenders as their offence was considered honorable in comparison to the immoral acts of their victims.

Over the years, with the increase in the number of cases of acid attacks during the 19th century in Britain and Europe, the crime of acid attacks soon found its way to crime fiction books. Dark realism of acid attacks can be seen in some of these books such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of an Illustrious Client” wherein Kitty Winter throws vitriol on the womanizer Baron Gruner and receives minimal punishment due to the circumstances surrounding the crime. Even some of the social commentaries of the time gave the impression that acid attacks were primarily committed by women (e.g. Blackham, 1936). Such literature not only disregards the gendered aspects of the crime of acid attacks but also perpetuates victim blaming and stigma associated with being victimized.

Watson (2017) analyzed 400 cases of acid throwing between 1795 to 1975 and reported almost an equal number of acid violence offenses committed by males or females.

Over the years, the crime of acid attacks has acquired a gendered aspect in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa with the majority of the victims being females and offenders being males. A report by the Acid Survivors Foundation (Acid Survivors Foundation Annual Report, 2015) indicates that acid attacks are gendered because more than 70 percent of reported cases involve women as victims. Even though there have been instances of acid attacks on men, the motives yet again highlight the gendered aspect of the crime.

Many of the female victims of acid attacks are targeted for merely rejecting the romantic or sexual advances of males or as outcomes of jealousy and attempts to maintain male domination over them. Males on the other hand are targeted more because of revenge over property matters or other issues. Unlike victims of other forms of crimes, victims of acid attacks are scarred for life.

Their own faces become reminders of their victimization experience.

For many of these victims, their treatments continue for life for the resultant injuries, pulmonary disorders, restricted movements, and blindness. A victim of acid attack reported that she could not find a job after being attacked as everyone felt that the customers would get scared. Another reported having to drop out of school because of the discrimination and prejudice that she experienced. Yet another victim reported that it was difficult for them to find a suitable partner for marriage as no one wanted a partner with scars. Thus, pushing them into a lonely life of misery and struggle.

Many of the acid attack victims are not only abandoned by their friends and colleagues but also by their family members. One victim recalled being rejected by her grandmother and father as they felt that she had brought shame to the family’s name by being a survivor of acid attack. Such experiences are often associated with a range of mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, low self-esteem, hopelessness, and shame, etc. (Mittal, Singh & Verma, 2020).

Moreover, such prejudiced treatment against acid attack survivors is often exacerbated by the stereotypical and villainous depiction of such scarred individuals in popular literature and media.

Such depictions stigmatize individuals with scars leading to discrimination, judgements, and even social exclusion of these individuals. Characters with scars are often portrayed as social outcasts, enemies or inherently evil. For instance, Scar in ‘The Lion King’ or Voldemort in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. In fact, in D. C. comics the law-abiding district attorney Harvey Dent turns into evil Two Face after Maroni throws acid on his face disfiguring his left side. Occasionally, scarred characters may be redeemed through their actions, but this is often contingent on their “healing” or undergoing a transformation that changes their appearance. This reinforces the notion that scars are inherently negative and that redemption can only be achieved by erasing.

Research by Mittal, Singh & Verma (2020) reveals that stigmatization and resultant psychological distress are frequently experienced by acid attack victims.

However, positive social support plays a crucial role in the psychological rehabilitation and recovery process of these survivors. Positive social support, both tangible and emotional, can minimize the impact of victimization of the acid attack survivors. However, to ensure that, it is necessary to raise awareness about the needs and issues of acid attack survivors. Firstly, it is essential to challenge the stereotypes associated with the survivors and move towards more diverse and realistic portrayals of characters with scars in books and media.

Scars should not be automatically associated with evil, and individuals with visible marks, deserve fair representation that reflects their complexity, resilience, and humanity. By promoting positive and nuanced depictions, authors and media creators can contribute to a more inclusive and empathetic society. Secondly, it is crucial to recognize acid attacks as one of the most horrific violations of human rights. Addressing the issue calls for more stringent and inclusive laws. Hence, the Sections 326A and 326B of the Indian Penal Code have been introduced.

Moreover, stricter laws have also been introduced to regulate the sale and purchase of acid in the country. Addressing the issue calls for more stringent and inclusive laws. Hence, the Sections 326A and 326B of the Indian Penal Code have been introduced. Moreover, stricter laws have also been introduced to regulate the sale and purchase of acid in the country.

Additionally, the RPWD Act, 2016 (Rights of Persons with Disability) ensures reservation in posts and services of the Central Government of 4 percent of which 1 percent is for persons with benchmark locomotor disability which includes acid attack victims.

More research that contributes to the trauma-informed treatment of acid attack survivors would also go a long way to address their needs and issues. There is also a need for public awareness campaigns to educate the public about the physical and emotional issues of the acid attack survivors. Celebrating stories of survivors can also help to challenge the stereotypes about these survivors. Moreover, an initiative like the Indira Gandhi National Open University, offering free courses to acid attack survivors, not only creates opportunities for their skill development and employment but also contributes to reducing the stigma associated with acid attacks.

By challenging outdated stereotypes and promoting empathy and understanding, we can contribute to a more inclusive and compassionate society, where survivors of acid attacks are treated with the dignity and respect they truly deserve. As we move forward, let us strive to shine a light on their stories, not only to raise awareness but also to inspire positive change and foster a world where such heinous crimes become relics of the past.

  • Shapiro, A. (1996) Breaking the Codes: Female Criminality in Fin-De-Siècle Paris. Stanford, USA: Stanford University Press.
  • Blackham, R. J. (1936). Woman: In honour and dishonour. S. Low, Marston & Company
  • Watson, C. (2017). Acid Attack in nineteenth century Britain. Legal History Miscellany. Accessed at
  • Mittal, S., Singh, T. & Verma, S. (2020). Role of Psychological Makeup in Psycholgical Rehabilitation of Acid Attack Victims. Journal of Interpersonal Violence: SAGE Publications
  • Mittal, S., Singh, T. & Verma, S. (2020). The influence of Social Support in the Rehabilitation of Acid Attack Victims: A Qualitative Inquiry. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology. Vol 31 issue 2, 228-240

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