(Trigger warning: domestic violence)
On March 17th, Fakhra Younas committed suicide in Rome twelve years after an acid attack by her own husband left her disfigured and in great pain. Younas, who had undergone thirty-nine corrective surgeries was described as “feisty as ever” in the days before she took her life.
Younas was only twenty-one when she was attacked by her estranged husband, Bilal Khar, the son of powerful politicians. She awoke one night to find him pouring acid on her face. The acid melted her nose off, making breathing extremely difficult. She was blinded in one eye. Although Khar was arrested for his crime, he was aquitted of his horrible act. Many believe he used his powerful connections to get out of trouble. Doctors who operated on Younas have said that she was always in good spirits during her operations, believing that things would get better, although there were times they were afraid they’d lose her in the night, due to her breathing difficulties.
It is heartbreaking to see someone give up on life after surviving such a brutal attack. It is so maddening that this kind of violent attack happened in the first place. Acid attacks, or acid throwing, is a common tactic of assault in countries like Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. 80% of victims of these acid attacks are female and almost 70% are under eighteen-years-old. The attacks are often used against women who have been accused of being disloyal and/or disobedient. Many of these attacks often go unreported out of fear, or else because these women feel that they deserve it, that they had what was coming to them.
These attacks are not exclusive to countries in the east–violence against women is a global issue. In the United States alone, the numbers are alarming. 1,181 women were murdered by a partner in 2005. Of all the murders of women that year, about one-third were killed by a partner. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year. Less than twenty percent of these instances were reported to the proper authorities. The National Organization for Women’s website has a more comprehensive list here, but those stats are enough to see that this is a major problem, and not exclusive to one part of the world.
How can we prevent another story like Younas’? How can we prevent the spread of domestic violence? For starters, tell somebody. Although there are times it feels like telling someone won’t accomplish anything other than paperwork, getting the word out about an abuser can stop them from getting other people, and can help you–perhaps someone can provide you with shelter, legal services, sympathy–something. There are many organizations that can provide great resources: RAINN, NOW, HelpGuide.Org, local shelters, churches, there’s always someone to help.