Nala is a thirty something Somalian who is murdered in London while over at a conference raising awareness of acid attacks on women. Her compelling backstory is what brought her to the City. How her attacker had scarred her as a teenager because she’d backed out of an arranged marriage. ‘I always look over my shoulder. My life is in constant danger.’
‘Even as the innocent victim I was shunned. Not one person spoke to me or took my side. Not my friends, not my relatives. Not one.’
‘Because nobody wanted to know me anymore, I didn’t want to live. I stayed indoors for eight years. My attacker could leave his house. But not me. No, no. I was the prisoner.’
Her attacker returned to normal day-to-day life after just six weeks, married someone else and had a family.
“At this, a Somalian stepped up to the platform. Horrific acid scars had left her skin looking like parchment. She began before the applause had faded, drowning out her words.”
― Louise Burfitt-Dons, The Missing Activist
In fact Nala is a fictitious character from my political thriller The Missing Activist. But there are many like her in real life.
Up until a few years ago the UK public assumed this type of crime was confined to parts of the world such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India and mostly only acted out against women who said “No”.
But not any more. The sentencing yesterday of 19 year old Zeneral Webster for the death of Joanne Rand has served to highlight the spike in cases here. An innocent bystander, it was likely the 47 year old care worker was caught in the way of a mugging attack while sitting on a park bench reflecting on the visit she’d just made to her daughter’s grave.
According to the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), the UK now has one of the highest rates of acid attacks per capita in the world. The number of recorded incidents has increased nearly three-fold from 228 in 2012 to 601 in 2016. Last year 400 were reported in the six months to April 2017 alone. The difference here is intended targets. In the UK most victims are men, whereas elsewhere it is 80 per cent against women.
According to Jaf Shah of ACTI, the organsation campaigning for tighter control on acid sales and a review of sentencing, it can be stopped. ‘The UK does not have legislation specific to acid attacks.’
Are we missing action?
It is sad to see our once green and pleasant land scarred in this way.