An Appeal to UN Women about acid violence

Posted January 6, 2011 from United States

Dear Michelle,

Women all over the globe are falling victim to acid attacks. Within the last month, a man in India threw acid on his colleague who would not have an affair with him, a man in Bangladesh threw acid on a teenage girl who would not marry him, and a man in Hong Kong threw acid on his friends because they weren't returning his phone calls.

Within the past year, a man in Malaysia splashed acid on his wife because she wouldn't have sex with him, and a group of girls in Afghanistan were attacked with acid for going to school.

Within the past decade, rampant acid violence, or vitriolage, has also been documented in the United Kingdom, Pakistan, the United States, and Cambodia, just to name a few. These malicious acts are perpetrated because of civil disputes that usually concern adultery. The two most common reasons for acid violence, says the Project Against Torture, are wives attacking their husbands' mistresses and husbands attacking their wives out of jealousy or punishment. The intention is not to kill victims, but rather make them suffer forever, living without the face and beauty that they once knew.

While victims suffer, perpetrators usually don't receive any punishment, or even blame, for the crimes they have committed. Some victims are paid to keep quiet about the attacks, while some are threatened with more violence.

One of the more well-known cases of acid violence occurred in 1999 in Cambodia. 16-year-old Tat Marina had become involved with the country's Undersecretary of State Svay Sitha, who locked her up without clothing for weeks to warn her of what might happen if she were to end the relationship. Afraid for her safety, she continued the affair, unaware that her greatest threat was the politician's wife, Khuon Sophal. The angry woman stalked Marina and sent a group of men to beat her and dowse her face with acid.

More than 10 years later, Sophal has not been convicted of this crime, despite the masses of Cambodians who recognize her as Marina's attacker. Marina and her family have since moved out of the country and away from Sitha's continued threats. Many human rights workers believe that because this high-profile perpetrator of vitriolage was never convicted by authorities, it has led to an increase of acid attacks within the country, and abroad.

It is my hope that UN Women will attempt to combat acid violence, and recognize the urgency with which this emerging issue needs to be dealt. A new law in Iran might implement an "eye for an eye" policy in which perpetrators of acid violence must lose body parts for all of those that they have burned off. Lawmakers in Illinois are working to restrict access to chemical acids. Campaigns such as The Project Against Torture and the Acid Survivors Foundation are attempting to eliminate these issues on a more one-on-one, grassroots level. No matter the approach, an intervention is necessary, and a powerful conglomerate like UN Women can impact significant change.

To learn more about Tat Marina's case and acid violence worldwide, visit


Emily Hutto Portland, United States

As the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women officially begins its work this month, World Pulse is asking women worldwide: What is YOUR vision and recommendation for UN Women? We invite you to raise your voice by writing a letter to UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet outlining your recommendation for how this new UN agency can truly affect change on the ground to promote gender equality and uphold the rights and needs of women both on a local and global scale. Learn more:

UN Women: Visions and Recommendations

Comments 1

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  • Jade Frank
    Jan 17, 2011
    Jan 17, 2011

    Dear Emily,

    Thank you for participating in this campaign, by using your voice and speaking out for women who have been abused, and calling for an end to violence against women as a priority for the new UN Women agency - especially in such terrifying cases as acid burnings - a horror which no human being need experience.

    In two weeks, we will compile your letters and share your voices with the GEAR Campaign, who have been working closely with UN Women to ensure the inclusion of civil society groups, and through the PulseWire community, grassroots women leaders, as they set their agenda. We will also be sending your letters directly to Michele Bachelet and other senior leaders of the newly formed UN agency, to demonstrate the effectiveness for sourcing opinion, knowledge and needs from the global grassroots women's movement through our online community. Through this, we hope to open a portal for our community to have a direct line of influence within the UN Women agency.

    I will keep you updated on the progress of our campaign!

    In friendship and solidarity, Jade