This letter was first published in SAGE Publishing journal Scars, Burns & Healing. Published in partnership with the Katie Piper Foundation
My name is Katie Piper and I'm an acid attack survivor. Attacks with various corrosive substances appear to be on the rise in some parts of the UK and I'm sharing my experiences below in the hope that it may help to shape the future and prevent further attacks on others. I am writing in an open access medical journal to reach out to experts, as well as the general public and lawmakers.
In March 2008, when I was 24 years old, a man I had been dating arranged for an accomplice to throw sulphuric acid in my face. This attack left me partially blinded, with severe, permanent scarring to my face, chest, neck, arm and hands. I couldn't recognise myself when I woke up from a coma and I wanted to commit suicide. I also swallowed some of the acid in the attack, damaging my throat, and I still require ongoing surgery on my throat to help me swallow and prevent scars closing it entirely; I suffered dangerous complications from one of these surgeries and my life was at risk once again.
Since the attack I have undergone over 250 operations to improve my physical functioning, including operations to help me breathe through my nose, as well as hours of psychological therapy to help me to deal with the trauma of the attack and to accept my 'new face'. I will continue to need operations and therapy for life.
For acid attack survivors, the aftermath is a life sentence.
Soon after I left hospital, I set up a charity to help adults with burns from any cause, with the goal of setting up a residential burn rehabilitation centre in the UK. Through my charity work, and via social media, I have met or spoken to many others who have been attacked with corrosive substances and whose lives have been shattered by the trauma of the attack, their permanent change in appearance and the loss of their identity; some have also lost vision and physical function. Through my charity's support and rehabilitation work I see that it is not only the individuals, but also their families and friends, who are affected. Lives can be destroyed in moments. Survivors of such attacks often have to live with the immediate fear that their attackers may still be at large, and in the longer term--even if the attackers are caught and sentenced may be released to potentially live alongside them after serving a minimum term. I meet many inspiring individuals who have worked hard to rebuild their lives after an attack; however, it can be hard to stay motivated when the justice system does not always reflect the severity of these crimes.
At present, it is all too easy for someone to buy a corrosive substance and throw it, sometimes from a distance, at another person. It is vital that we do everything we can to halt these types of attack.
The current legislation does not always recognise the severity of the offence and, therefore, the sentencing does not reflect the severity of the crime in some cases. Tougher sentencing would surely act as a deterrent to further attacks. The issue of penalties for carrying corrosive substances needs to be addressed and restrictions on the sale of corrosive substances need to be looked at seriously and methodically through a scientific and well-resourced approach that leads to swift action.
This situation cannot be allowed to continue or escalate and this is my plea to prevent more lives being destroyed. My sincere thanks to those who are already proactively looking at these difficult, but important, issues and working towards solutions.
Katie Piper is founder of the Katie Piper Foundation
This letter is published in SAGE Publishing journal Scars, Burns & Healing. Published in partnership with the Katie Piper Foundation