Friday, 14 October 2011

ACID ATTACKS: The CSC Surgical Center : Phnom Penh

We had been asked by a HVO Orthopedic Surgeon if we could go and see a wounded patient who was at the CSC. The CSC is a hospital run by a British Physician who also oversees a clinic. We were told that there was a woman who had been a victim of acid attack. Today we met the female victim of an acid attack who was one month post attack.

We were told that this 54 year old lady worked for the community and that she had spoken too some young men about the careless riding of their motor cycles as she was concerned about the safety of the people. The young men were angered and attacked her with acid.

When the woman was brought into the treatment room we were saddened by her bandaged body and her difficult physical situation and  the pain of her suffering.She had lost one eye completly and her second eye was sown shut. The nurses told us that the lady said she could see some light out of the eye that she had left. Her nose had been burned off and she sustained third degree burns to her head, face, neck chest and arms. She had a large wound on her head due to infection and debridement. She is married with children.  She had been in the CSC for a month and she was expected to stay another. Her attacker was caught and will go to court.  Jail terms depend on the severity of the attack and disfigurement.

 Background on acid attacks:

At least 44 acid attacks were reported in Cambodia in a three year period up to November 2002,
injuring 60 people and killing three others. This means an average of one attack every 25 days.
These statistics from newspaper reports, and the real number of acid attacks may be higher. Not all cases may be reported in newspapers.

Nearly one third of the people injured in acid attacks are not the intended victims. This is because acid is a messy weapon, and other people nearby the victim at the time of the attack are often injured accidentally as well. For example, two young boys were badly injured in an acid attack which killed their mother. In another case, a woman threw acid at her husband but it also hit her own 5-year-old son.

The targets of acid attacks are mainly women, but men are also deliberately attacked. Both men
and women commit acid attacks.Most attacks are perpetrated because of family or personal relationship disputes or problems.

The most common types of attacks are:       
1) Wives throwing acid against their husbands’ mistresses or second wives: to take revenge
and destroy the appearance of the victims so tha t the husbands will not stay w ith them;

2) Husbands throwing acid against their w ives or former wives: usually to punish them for some alleged mistake or because of jealousy or anger about a se paration or divorce.

3) A less common but especially disturbing type of attack is women who throw acid at their
husbands because the husbands beat and abused them. This shows what can happen when domestic violence is not stopped, and victims feel they have no other way to protect themselves.
4) Acid throwing highlights serious problems in Cambodian society and families. The root causes
of acid attacks include high levels of violence and social problems within society, and widespread discrimination against women.
Decades of war, genocide and poverty have damaged the morals, Buddhist principles and family
values of people and created much violence and crime in society. Many people use violence as a
way to settle problems or disputes. Violence is common within families, as well a s social problems
such as alcoholism, marital quarrels and infidelity. Some men abuse their wives or take mistresses or second wives. Women have little power to stop misconduct by their husbands or get justice for it. In these circumstances, people resort to throwing acid, r ather than peacef ul and lawful means, to
express their jealousy and anger or to try to re solve their problems.
Women are often the targets of acid attacks, which indicates that society often blames women –
rather than men – for family problems. Even women perpetrators may blame other women,
rather than the men who are involved. For example, an angry wife is far more likely to throw
acid at her husband’s mistress than at her unfaithful husband.
Other factors contribute to acid attacks, including that acid is a cheap and easy weapon to obtain
and use, compared to guns, knives and grenades. Another problem is Cambodia’s weak police
and court system, which is corrupt, ineffective and poorly resourced. Acid throwers and other
criminals may be able to avoid justice, especially if they are richer or more powerful than their
victims. If perpetrators are not punished, it encourages other people to think that they can commit the same crimes with impunity.

Without strong action against acid throwers, the number of cases will probably increase and the
reasons for attacks will grow more varied. Already, it is not only family problems which lead to
acid attacks. In a few cases, other reasons for attacks have included robbery or personal quarrels
and disputes not related to family matters. Hospital doctors say they have also seen some cases
related to land or property disputes.

Acid throwers mainly use sulfuric or nitric acid, which are two of the strongest acids and can eat
through the skin, muscle and even bones of humans.Sulfuric acid is very common because it is used in car and motorcycle batteries. Battery acid is heavily diluted, so that it is 75-80% water, and weaker and slower to burn it if touches human skin. Acid throwers prefer stronger, undiluted sulfuric acid. Undiluted sulfuric acid sells in Phnom Penh for about 3,000 riels a liter, and diluted battery acid for 500-600 riels per liter.

Acid burns are among the worst injuries that a human being can suffer. Victims’ faces and
bodies are tortured by the acid, leaving them with hideous scars and disabilities for the rest of
their lives. Blindness or deafness may also occur, because the acid is usually thrown at the head.
Victims who survive their injuries have a long, painful and exhausting recovery. Deep burns are
very difficult to heal and vulnerable to infection and other problems. Victims usually have to
spend weeks or months in hospital, until their wounds begin to heal and the risk of infection is
gone. Most will need multiple surgical operations and treatment lasting for years. Medical expertise and equipment is poor in Cambodia, and severe acid damage can never be fully repaired. Acid victims will never look the same as they did before. Victims often have to pay for their medical treatment, and the quality of treatment they receive may depend on how much money they have. Some victims may not go to hospital at all, but try to treat their own wounds or go to local medical clinics or traditional healers.
Acid burns through skin and flesh layer by layer, causing great pain and injury. It eats through
the two layers of the skin, into the fat and muscle underneath, and sometimes down to the bone.
It may dissolve the bone. The deepness of injury depends on the strength of the acid and the
duration of contact with the skin – the burning continues until the acid is thoroughly washed off
with water.Thrown on a person’s face, acid rapidly eats into eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The pain is
excruciating, as an intense burning heat cuts through the victim’s flesh like a hot knife. Eyelids
and lips may burn off completely. The nose may melt, closing the nostrils, and ears shrivel up.
Acid can quickly destroy the eyes, blinding the victim. Skin and bone on the skull, forehead,
cheeks and chin may dissolve. As well as the face, the acid usually splashes or drips over the
neck, chest, back, arms or legs, burning anywhere it touches.

The biggest immediate danger for victims is breathing failure. Inhalation of acid vapors can
create breathing problems in two ways: by causing a poisonous reaction in the lungs or by swelling the neck, which constricts the airway and strangles the victim. One Cambodian acid victim died because the acid flowed into his nose and airway. But victims usually do not die. The aim of most acid attacks is not to kill, but to maim and disfigure. The perpetrator wants the victim to live with a mutilated face, looking like a monster, and continue to suffer forever.
Source: Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)



  1. Acid attacks are brutal. These attacks are common in India and the Middle East as well. Not sure how prevalent it is though. You certainly are getting to see a variety of wounds. Hope you both are doing well. Looking forward to catching up with you once you are home.

  2. These acid attacks are the real examples of humans with non-human emotions and brain. How a human can hurt someone else like this. Thanks for your amazing work that can change so many lives.
    Cambodian Language Course