The UK has the record for highest recorded rates of violent acid attacks in the world with common assumption being attacks between south Asian males and females often linked with Honour Based Abuse (HBA).
Although there are some acid attack crimes linked with HBA, the truth is that just 6% of all attacks in the UK in 2017 were linked to Asians. According to statistics about victims of acid attacks 421 are Asian victims– around one fifth of the 2,196 total for the 15-year period. Almost half the victims (987) are White European, and one quarter (557) are African Caribbean (bbc.2017).Evidence suggests that acid attacks are mostly linked with hate crimes which can be prevalent in any community regardless of race, age or gender.
Within BME communities hate crimes linked with acid attacks has increased particularly in gangs. Acid is becoming the preferred weapon for many young people in gangs due to the lasting impact it has on their victims, unlike knifes it can be thrown from a distance and can be easily concealed.
Jermaine Lawlor, a former gang member now a youth worker in Enfield, north London, stated that “acid is preferred because it can be hidden in drinks bottles that police cannot easily detect if they perform a stop and search” (Independent. 2017)
In cases of knife crimes, a four year mandatory sentence is likely to be an outcome, however if a victims dies then a suspect could face life in prison. However in cases of acid attacks, a victims self-self-esteem, self-confidence may be destroyed whilst a suspect gets only 6 months imprisonment.
Why do many of our young people join gangs?
Lack of positive role models: The lack of black male role models within our community is increasingly becoming an issue as, many young black males lack the right guidance and inspiration to support them with achieving their dreams and goals. Too often, role models for young black males include rappers who glamorise guns and criminal activity. These rappers (often bias in their views about gangs, criminal activity and guns) present this lifestyle of criminality as the better way of gaining power and success within the community (BBC. 2007)
Absent Fathers: It is estimated by Human Rights Commission (2011) that 65% of African-Caribbean children are raised by one parent – nearly always without the father (The Guardian. 2013) “A father is someone who further guides the mind of a young child”. A father is seen as someone who protects and provides security for his family. The absence of a father in a home may result to a young person “looking for security outside the home by older gang leaders” as they are not in the protection of their father.
What has been done to tackle acid attack crimes in the UK?
The government has introduced a ban for members of the public to possess sulphuric acid above 15% concentration without a licence. Offenders could face a 2-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine.
Discussion around extending stop and search power taking place with the Metropolitan police, however with controversy around this approach relating to knife crime, this objective might not be received well.
What can be done by our community to support the government in tackling acid attack crimes?
Father figures such as uncles, male family friends should consider acting as role models for young males in their communities. Young males need to be taught that money, power and fame can be gained in many various ways that exempt violence against one another. They need to be made aware of examples of people who have gained power (Paul Boateng, Former US president Barack Obama, Damon Buffini etc.) through proper and legal ways.
Yes, there are a few cases of acid attack crimes linked with HBA however; there is a greater link with hate crime which can affect individuals from all background and communities. Nevertheless, it is cannot be dismissed that many young people from Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities are involved in gang meaning that, they are likely to be involved or exposed to such hate crimes increasing the chances of the use of acid as a weapon for attack.
The issue of acid attacks has increased in the UK recently and is an issue that needs immediate response. We as a community can also support our government by way of education and through the above suggestion.
For help and support about acid attacks please contact Changing Faces (UK) on: 0300 012 0275
References and Further Reading