Acid attacks: New research reveals unexpected demographics and highlights the need for tighter regulation of corrosive substances

Article title: Assaults from corrosive substances and medico legal considerations in a large regional burn centre in the United Kingdom: Calls for increased vigilance and enforced legislation

From Scars, Burns & Healing (in affiliation with KPF)

In affiliation with The Katie Piper Foundation, leading researchers from the St. Andrews Centre for Plastic Surgery and Burns conducted a 15- year retrospective study of twenty-one victims of assault using corrosive substances in order to better understand this method of violence, support the victims, and review current criminal legislative proceedings and preventative legislations in the UK.

Whilst acid attacks within the UK are gaining increased media attention surrounding a concern about rising incidence, the data is reassuring in one sense suggesting that occurrences are in fact remaining generally constant, with an average of 7 attacks taking place every 4 years within the study. They also found that victims were mostly young men, assaulted by male perpetrators, a very different demographic compared to similar attacks in Low and Middle Income countries including India, Iran, Jamaica, Bangladesh and Uganda and Cambodia.

The authors emphasize that “prevention is key”, and call for tighter regulations around the purchase of corrosive substances. They note that whilst it is impossible to stop the public from purchasing corrosive agents such as heavy-duty drain cleaners, “a legal requirement for sellers to record details of every purchase should be implemented” and state that these measures are “likely to have a significant impact on reducing future rates of these attacks.”



Graphic burn injuries from corrosive substances have been recognized as a common method of assault in low and middle income countries (LMICs) motivated by various factors. Such injuries often leave survivors with severely debilitating physical and psychological injuries and scars. The number of reported cases of acid assaults within the United Kingdom (UK) appears to be on the rise. As one of the largest regional burn centers in the UK, we have reviewed our experience of chemical burns from assault. This study aims to: (1) review the demographics, incidence and patient outcomes; (2) evaluate the long-term psychosocial support provided; and (3) review current criminal litigation proceedings and preventative legislations in the UK specific to assault by corrosive substances. A 15-year retrospective review of 21 burn injuries from assault with corrosive substances presenting to a regional burn unit was conducted. Victims were mostly young men; male perpetrators were more common. The most common motive cited was assault. The most common anatomical region affected was the face and neck. The number of victims who pursue litigation is disproportionately lower than the number of total cases at presentation. In an effort to better understand the legal considerations surrounding such assaults, we also collaborated with lawyers experienced in this particular field. We hope that our work will help educate healthcare professionals regarding the legal assistance and existing laws available to protect these patients.

Read this article for free

Article details
Alethea Tan, Amrit Kaur Bharj, Metin Nizamoglu, David Barnes, and Peter Dziewulski
Assaults from corrosive substances and medico legal considerations in a large regional burn centre in the United Kingdom: calls for increased vigilance and enforced legislation
Scars, Burns & Healing January-December 2015 1: 2059513115612945, first published on November 18, 2015 doi:10.1177/2059513115612945

This entry was posted in Medicine, SAGE Insight and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply