Holding her scarred arm close to her left side, Keo Srey Vy gazes downward and dares not look up. The skin on one side of her face has all but melted away leaving her with only one ear and clear sight in only one eye.
Like hundreds of survivors, Ms Srey Vy, 36, is a victim of an acid attack. And like many others she is fed up with the common as-
sumption in Cambodian culture that she must have done something to deserve her devastating wounds.
“I am angry and don’t want to go outside,” she said, adding that many in Cambodia perceive acid victims as the deserving party in extra-marital affairs and love rivalries.
In January, Ms Srey Vy was attacked by her brother-in-law, who was enraged by her efforts to prevent him from selling his children. He doused her in sulphuric acid.
“I am a victim,” she said.
Today she is an inpatient at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity in the Tuol Kok district of Phnom Penh. The organization is the country’s only dedicated charity for victims of acid attacks.
Officials at the charity say there are still huge amounts of work to do in order to educate the public about the severity and frequency of acid attacks in the country.
According to Chhun Sophea, program manager at the charity, one acid attack victim per month is currently arriving on their door step in need of help.
Jason Barber, a consultant at the human rights group Licadho, said that there are a variety of reasons for acid attacks of which “love triangles” are just one.
He cited disputes over money and land, as well as the unfortunate result of being an innocent bystander, as being amongst just some of the acid attack cases he has heard about.
On Thursday, officials at the charity corrected figures they released on Wednesday and in which they claimed that 130 children had been registered as victims of acid attacks at their organization since March 2006. In-
stead they said there had only been 31 such children.
According to the revised figures, and besides the 31 children, 110 women and 91 men have been registered as victims of acid attacks or have been injured by acid in some form of accident since March 2006 when the charity was founded.
It is also not clear if the victims were actually injured within this time frame as some of them registered with the charity months after their initial accident, the charity said.
According to Licadho, which compiles their data on acid attacks from information provided via the media, there have been a total of 208 victims of acid attacks since April 1999, the majority of whom were men.
The difference in the interpretation of who and how many people have been affected by acid at-
tacks highlights just how difficult it is to provide an exact number of those whose lives have been ended or destroyed by acid.
Christina Yager, a social worker at CASC, said “it would not be at all surprising if there were more victims out there that we don’t know about.”
Nonetheless, according to CASC only 9 percent of registered acid attack victims at the charity where due to love affairs, a statistic that according to Long Lundy, a medical doctor at the charity, should be used as an educative tool to show Cambodians that acid attack victims are usually just that: victims.
Medically speaking, acid burns are also very severe, he said.
“The result of an acid attack is a very severe burn not only to the superficial tissue but of the basement membrane of the skin. The acid often sinks into the bones and dissolves them along with the blood vessels,” Mr Lundy said, adding that basic skin healing for severe attacks can take up to 8 months.
Mr Lundy said that for the first few months of healing, patients need new dressings every day and physiotherapy at least twice a day.
Other victims are not so lucky.
Mr Lundy described how acid attack victims with first-degree burns to their genital area had literally bled to death upon arrival at the charity.
Part of the work CASC carries out involves helping the victims to reintegrate within society. They provide monthly counseling sessions, train the relatives of the victims in first aid and provide vocational training in areas such as information technology and the arts so that the victims can start to build their lives again.
Because of the stigma attached to acid burns victims, “they feel guilty to go outside,” said Mr Lundy.
“We don’t want people to only focus on the idea of a love triangle.”
For Som Bunnarith, 38, a former staffer at the Coca Cola Company in Cambodia and an acid attack victim from 2005, the services provided by CASC are a matter of survival.
“As an acid attack victim I have become helpless. I lost my job and I must find a way to support myself,” he said.
“I am part of the cause for all acid victims.”