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Girls & Women

This 21-Year-Old Acid Attack Survivor Has Inspired Many With Her Strength

Resham Khan’s 21st birthday was a night she’ll never forget — but for all the wrong reasons.

In June, Khan and her cousin, Jameel Mukhtar, were driving after celebrating her birthday in London when a stranger threw corrosive acid at them as they were paused at a traffic light, the BBC reported.

Both their lives were changed in that moment.

“Acid attacks aren’t just something people can wake up to the next day and continue on normally with,” Khan told the BBC in an interview after she was named to the BBC’s 2017 100 Women list — a list of women it deems inspirational and innovative. 

Take Action: Let’s consider our own biases as we build a world where everyone sees equal #WeSeeEqual

Khan and Mukhtar suffered serious injuries and took months to recover. Khan had burns on her face and required skin grafts, the BBC reported. Her left eye was also damaged. Mukhtar’s injuries were so severe, he had to be put into a coma, and is now deaf in one ear, according to the Daily Mail.

Soon after the attack, Khan penned a heartfelt letter as part of a petition to change the laws in the UK around access to acid, Cosmopolitan reported

"My plans are in pieces; my pain is unbearable, and I write this letter in hospital whilst I patiently wait for the return of my face,” she wrote.

Their attacker, John Tomlin, has since been identified and admitted responsibility for the attack, though he has not yet been sentenced and his motivations are still unclear. 

“His violence, in a split second, destroyed my life, my cousin’s life, his children’s lives,” Khan told the BBC.

Khan said that before the attack, she had a very clear idea of where she hoped to be in five years, but a lot of that has changed now.

“I am making big decisions in life and big changes, there’s a lot of things that I would have liked to have done and I can’t do anymore,” she said.

Read more: Why These Acid Attack Survivors Danced Down a London Fashion Show Catwalk

In her letter, Khan said she had two priorities: making a full recovery and ensuring that no one else ever had the same experience, and though the laws have since been tightened — there is now a minimum six-month sentence for those caught with acid without “good reason” twice, the Guardian reported — acid is still accessible.

The UK government announced its plans to ban the sale of acid to children under the age of 18, but Khan argued that’s not enough because perpetrators of acid attackers, like her attacker, are often over the age of 18, she told the BBC.

Acid attacks have been on the rise in the UK; more than 450 incidents were recorded in 2016, according to NPR. In countries like India and Pakistan, acid attacks are most often a form of gender-based violence. However, Jaf Shah, Executive Director of Acid Survivors Trust International, told NPR that in the UK two-thirds of acid attack victims are men and the attacks are more often random or associated with other crimes.

Read more: These Powerful Portraits of Acid Attack Victims Tell a Story of Courage and Survival

The way Khan used her painful experience to help and support others earned her a spot on the BBC’s 100 Women list.

After the attack, she began blogging about her experience and her difficult recovery — both physical and emotional. Her openness has inspired many.

Khan has been candid about her struggles after the attack, from grappling with whether or not to be honest about her low moments to experimenting with new make-up and beauty routines.

“If I could speak to the attacker, I would ask him why he threw acid at us and I just pity him,” she told the BBC.

Global Citizen campaigns for freedom, for justice, for all. No one should fear for their safety because of their gender, race, or religion. You can take action here to support a bias-free world.