Although acid attacks originated in the UK more than 200 years ago, they have in recent years seen an increase in popularity. According to the NOCC, “The UK now has one of the highest rates of recorded acid and corrosive substance attacks per capita in the world and this number appears to be rising.” An average of two attacks with the use of corrosive substances are carried out per day in the United Kingdom, but this number is thought to be vastly under reported, especially by those who are victims of domestic, sexual and gang related violence. In London alone, there have been 1800 attacks since 2010 (25% being robberies, and 60% being direct assault), 400 of which happened in the eastern borough of Newham. Additionally, London has seen a 70% rise in the number of documented acid attacks from 2015 to 2016. Four out of five of these violent offences never reach trial, and of those that do only about a quarter result in charges being brought against the assailant.
Further, the use of corrosive substances as a weapon is incredibly hard to monitor, and due to legislation, even more difficult to prosecute fully. Current legislation states that police officers need adequate suspicion/proof of malicious intent to stop someone on the street on the suspicion that they intend to use acid as a weapon: offenders often hide the clear acids in water bottles, making them virtually impossible to identify, even if someone is stopped, without ordering full chemical analysis. Because many of the corrosive substances are household cleaners and materials, the regulation of their sale is virtually uninhibited: anyone can go into a store and buy them, and even carry them around without arousing suspicion, as opposed to the sale of knives. In fact, it seems logical that as there has been a crackdown on knife violence, people have naturally turned to acid to take its place. In addition, while a knife attack is considered murder, or attempted murder, an acid attack is considered in its most severe form to be an instance of grievous bodily harm, although acid can burn down to the bone and be fatal. Further, people anecdotally think they have a lower chance of being arrested and prosecuted if they launch an attack with acid rather than a knife, a sentiment which is true if one considers the way in which legislation around such attacks is defined.
The problem with the discourse around these acid attacks is the convolution of the reputation of acid attacks in South East Asia and the Middle East, with the reality of attacks in the UK. In the UK 2/3 of the victims are men, versus the 80% of women victims worldwide. who are usually the victims of honour attacks. Only 6% of suspects were Asian, and only one “honour” attack with the use of acid has been recorded in the past 15 years. These statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, obviously: victims of domestic and sexual abuse are much less likely to report such crimes out of fear of further retaliation or shunning from families. Nonetheless, In the UK it appears that corrosive substance related violence is mainly confined between men, mostly of African Caribbean or White European ethnicities.
These attacks are not the result of Islamist infiltration into the UK, then, and are not overwhelmingly conducted onto women for the sake of honour, despite the popular media discourse surrounding the subject: rather, they exist in much the same way that gun violence, and gang related activity do: concentrated between men, with issues of the psychology of masculinity and survival at their heart. What the ruse of acid attacks demonstrates to us, is that a crackdown on knives and guns is in isolation simply not enough, not when need and drive for violence has been so deeply ingrained into the mass masculine consciousness, and seems to take shape particularly, for example, in the traditionally rougher boroughs of London. Instead of a crackdown on weapons (which there will always be a way around), perhaps we should rather adopt a crackdown on the mentality and necessity for violence within these groups of young men.