Emerging: Acid sales to under-18s to be banned in U.K. after rise in attacks

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Home Secretary Amber Rudd said today that the U.K. government will aim to ban the sale of corrosive substances to people under the age of 18.

The home secretary – the U.K.’s equivalent of an interior minister – also announced that she would “drastically limit” the sale of sulphuric acid, given that the substance can be used to make bombs.

Rudd’s announcement comes when the U.K. has rapidly reached one of the highest per capita rates of acid attacks in the world with 455 attacks taking place last year in London. That’s almost double the figure for 2015, when 261 attacks took place in the capital.

Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), a U.K.-based charity, estimates that there has been a 90 percent increase in acid violence in Britain over the past decade.

The U.K. is an anomaly because most acid attack victims are male, whereas globally they are female. From 2011 to 2016, twice as many men in the U.K. were attacked with acid than women. The use of corrosive substances has become more common during robberies, in gang-related violence, and in unprovoked attacks.

However, most acid violence perpetrators in the U.K. are also male. This reflects the global trend.

Rudd, who delivered her pledge at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, described acid attacks as “absolutely revolting.”

“We have all seen the pictures of victims that never fully recover – endless surgeries, lives ruined,” she said.

The British government said new laws aimed at people carrying acid would be modelled on existing knife-carrying legislation.

Under British law, the steepest penalty for an adult carrying a banned knife is four years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. People convicted of carrying such a knife more than once are subject to a prison sentence.

Commenting on the proposed reforms, ASTI Executive Director Jaf Shah told WikiTribune: “Those measures are welcome. But they don’t go far enough to address the underlying causes.”

The first problem is a lack of data needed to formulate an effective response. “In the U.K., unlike globally, there seems to a multitude of motivations behind attacks,” said Shah.

Globally, the main cause for acid attacks is the perpetuation of female oppression. But in the U.K., Shah said acid is used for gang-related violence, hate crimes, and unprovoked assaults, as well as gender-based attacks.

“We need to conduct that bit of detailed research before deciding the long-term strategy to address the problem,” said Shah.

But given that most acid attack perpetrators are men, Shah also believes that the government needs to develop a long-term strategy to challenge a culture of toxic masculinity in the U.K. that often leads to disputes among men – especially teenagers – to be settled through violence.

“Until we really bring about a change in attitudes around violence, I think acid violence will continue,” says Shah.

The proposed ban on the sale of acids to minors is one of several legislative changes to be included in a public consultation on offensive weapons announced by the Home Office on October 3. Other proposed changes include preventing children from buying knives online and restricting access to dangerous firearms.

The Home Office has not yet replied to confirm a date for the public consultation.

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