Thursday, 22 August 2013

Acid Attacks

In high school I was the classic example of a girl who leaves for her sophomore year summer an awkward duckling and comes back the next year an Abercrombie & Fitch-wearing, hair-flipping, gum-smacking, lip glossed fembot. The sudden attention I got from people was thrilling, admittedly, but it also made me feel self-conscious. So I pretended that I was “like, sooo not into high school boys” to avoid whatever we considered dating back then.

Questionable insecurities aside, one particular guy on the receiving end of this charade didn’t seem to get it. He pursued and I turned him down; pursued again and I turned him down again. Then, in a moment of spitefulness, he casually threatened to “throw acid on my face to make me ugly,” which is a bit of an overreaction if you ask me.

While I truly believe that this person meant it as innocently as one can make a comment like that, it blows my mind to consider that this idle threat probably would have sparked actual fear (versus eye-rolling) if it had been directed at me in a different part of the world; in countries where these types of threats are taken very seriously by women. The memory of this incident replayed in my mind after coming across two articles within a recent two-day period addressing the rise of acid attacks in the international community, demonstrating that the media is beginning to shed more light on this unfortunate reality for many women.

In one, it was reported that two 18-year-old British women volunteering in Tanzania were walking along the street when men riding a motorbike threw the corrosive substance at them while speeding past, causing permanent damage to their face, chest, and backs. (Reuters, 8/8/13)

The second article I came across featured a woman from New Delhi who detailed her own experience with acid, explaining that women are often stalked and harassed leading up to the actual attack, which is what happened to her before she was disfigured for refusing a man’s marriage proposal. (The Washington Post, 8/9/13)

According to the latter article, violence against women and the stalking that can precedes it is often dismissed as a standard courtship ritual, especially in countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Cambodia where this form of abuse is widespread. A common theme for Bollywood films is to depict women as hard-to-get and show them being repeatedly harassed by men until they eventually give in. In fact, many American films feature this theme as well, begging the question that maybe the world as a whole is perpetuating the idea that if a woman refuses a man it probably means that he should just try harder. As baffling as it may seem, maybe by supporting those rom-com films we all adore (the ones featuring the independent heroine being worn-down by the annoyingly persistent guy) we are actually supporting the idea that it is okay to continue pursuing a woman even after she has made it clear that she doesn’t want the attention. Maybe it isn’t cute anymore— or never was. Maybe, just maybe, we are all contributing to the erosion of the idiom used to death by mothers and Sex Ed teachers alike that “no means no.”

Laws attempting to curb violence against women are a recent evolution in some countries and acid attacks weren’t even considered punishable offenses in India until last March. Around 1,500 attacks are still being reported each year— and those are just the incidences that are reported. With India considering a law to prohibit the purchasing of acid to those under 18 an inkling of support from these governments has begun to emerge, but it still isn’t enough. After women are maimed, many are treated as though they have somehow brought it upon themselves by refusing to acquiesce to the desires of man, being too provocative… etc. It seems as though the public hatred and slut-shaming runs parallel to the incidences of these attacks.

It is important that the global community recognize campaigns like New Delhi-based Stop Acid Attacks and push these governments to pass laws that create punishable offenses for those who intentionally cause physical and psychological torture for women. Maybe then a woman living in these parts of the world will be allowed to have their questionable insecurities, or simply express disinterest in men, without having to fear for her life.

By Sabrina Willard

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