Keo Srey Vy, a 36-year-old victim of an acid attack, receives treatment at the Acid Survivors Charity in Cambodia. According to the Acid Survivors Trust International, victims of acid violence are almost always women. Experts say many of the attacks occur after rejection of a marriage or sex proposal. Picture: Chor Sokunthea / Reuters

Acid attacks in South Africa have increased over the years.

Though the incidents are not as prevalent as in countries such as Bangladesh and India, there is major cause for concern.

Domestic abuse against women comes in many forms and an acid burn or attack is not only a physical experience but an emotional and psychological obstacle as well.

According to the Acid Survivors Trust International (Asti), the victims of acid violence are overwhelmingly women and children and attackers often target the head and face in order to maim, disfigure and blind.

The act rarely kills, but causes severe physical, psychological and social scarring.

These incidents occur in many countries in south- east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the West Indies and the Middle East. Survivors must deal with numerous discomforts such as skin tightness and severe itching.

Asti executive director Jaf Shah says they have an overall figure of 1 500 reported attacks globally every year.

“But due to a fear of reprisal, (law enforcement) and a lack of human rights in a number of countries, (some of the) victims do not report the attacks. The real figure is likely to be far higher,” he says.

He says there were 382 reported victims of acid violence in Uganda between 1985 and May last year and the organisation receives reports from a number of African countries including Nigeria and Rwanda.

“A number of people and organisations think that attacks in India alone could be in the thousands each year.

“The Indian Union Cabinet met earlier this year to discuss the possible amendment of the Indian penal code to include an acid violence-specific bill,” he says.

Shah says the perpetrators of attacks are almost always men. “Studies show that rejection of love, marriage or sex proposals motivated approximately 50 percent of attacks, overall,” he says.

Counsellor and psychologist Sue-Ann Bright says such attack often affected the behaviour of children in the victims’ families.

“They will probably be fearful and try to find strategies to make the domestic situation easier to function in. These strategies may include playing the role of peacekeeper to being a bully in situations outside of the home,” she says.

“These children will most likely be seriously psychologically affected by violence as they are victims of or witnesses to the incidents.

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Expert views on acid violence:

Counselling psychologist Sue-Ann Bright says the motivating factors include:

l In some instances the drive to kill may be around control, ownership and possessiveness. This means that a man may feel that he owns his partner and has the right to control her.

l In other instances it may be that he is unable to cope with his life circumstances and he retaliates by hurting the person he feels should be on his side – the woman in his life. Also, in some cultures or religions, it is permissible to punish the wife through violence.

Clinical psychologist Wendy Cain:

Are there cases where men are remorseful after their acts?

Yes and no. There are cases where the individual has the capacity for feeling guilt and they do feel remorseful for having “lost control”. Those with sociopathic tendencies will not feel remorseful, and in such cases a show of remorse may be a way to manipulate the situation or avoid recriminations or consequences.

Where should women go? Anger-management programmes are available and support/therapy groups for men who have been abusive or struggle with managing emotions appropriately.

If the person has been charged and incarcerated for the attack, there are programmes that are run within the prison.

All of the above services are often available in one’s community mental health services, through the CSVR, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, Lifeline, or privately.

Clinical psychologist Joanna Kleovoulou provides safety tips that can make the difference between being severely injured or killed and escaping with your life:

l Know where to go if your abuser attacks or an argument starts. Avoid small, enclosed spaces without exits or rooms with weapons.

If possible, head for a room with a phone and an outside door or window.

l Establish a word or a signal you can use to let your children, family, friends or colleagues know that you are in danger and the police should be called.

l Ask a trusted relative or friend if you may contact them if you need to be fetched, a place to stay, or help contacting the police. Memorise the numbers of your emergency contacts, place of safety and domestic violence hotline.

Kleovoulou said victims should remember:

l You are not to blame for being battered or mistreated.

l You are not the cause of your partner’s abusive behaviour.

l You deserve to be treated with respect.

l You and your children deserve a safe and happy life.

l You are not alone.

Healing process for women affected:

l Stop negative behaviour before it becomes habitual and causes significant harm to your loved ones.

l Make time to heal the damage you experienced from your previous abuse so that it does not spill over to your next relationship or current significant relationship.

l Change negative attitudes and beliefs that create a victim or abuser mentality.

l Learn healthy ways of communicating your needs and resolving conflicts with respect.

l Repair damage that has already occurred to your relationships, including those with your children.

l Seek out further assistance and support from a professional such as a psychologist.

Attacks in South Africa:

l September 2011 – Perceive Chishangu had acid thrown at her in a taxi in Cape Town. Two men had climbed into the taxi after her and, as they were getting off, they threw acid at her.

l August 23, 2012 – Lillian Raolani’s husband allegedly poured acid over her after she told him she wanted a divorce. It is alleged that he poured the acid over her face and damaged her right eye. Her face, upper body and arms were burned. She was set to divorce him in September. He appeared at the Protea Magistrate’s Court on October 26 facing attempted murder charges.

l September 25 – Meadowlands, Soweto resident Phindi Sibiya had boiling water thrown at her, allegedly by her-ex-boyfriend, who also threatened to kill her.

He is also alleged to have poured boiling water on her son and employee and stabbed them as well. He was arrested and appeared at the Meadowlands Magistrate’s Court on charges of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

l October 9 – A Durban woman was arrested after she tried to kill her husband by pouring acid over him while he was sleeping on the couch.

l October 12 – A magistrate in the North West province sentenced a man who had twice attempted to kill his ex-girlfriend.

Lerato Matane’s boyfriend, Sydney Mpolaisa, was sentenced to six years in prison after he had doused her with petrol and thrown a bucket of acid over her.

Mpolaisa received three years for assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and three years for contravening a protection order.

The Star