Acid Attack Survivor Katie Piper Is the First 'Strictly Come Dancing' Star of 2018
Here's why that's important.
Campaigner and broadcaster Katie Piper has been announced as the first contestant for this year’s Strictly Come Dancing.
And appearing on the show — which pulled in an average of 11 million viewers every week it aired last year — will be a chance for Piper to continue her campaign work and raise awareness about the scourge of acid attacks both in the UK and around the world.
Piper was in her early 20s when she was attacked with sulphuric acid after coming out of a cafe in north London, in March 2008. While the actual attack was carried out by a man called Stefan Sylvestre, it was orchestrated by her abusive and violent ex-boyfriend, Daniel Lynch.
Since the attack — for which both men are serving life sentences — Piper has spoken openly about her experience to raise awareness for fellow victims and her foundation aims to have a world “where scars do not limit a person’s function, social inclusion, or sense of well-being.”
Acid attacks are a huge problem in the UK and around the world — and women and girls are disproportionately affected.
Thank you for all your lovely messages. I’m super excited but very nervous about being a contestant on this years @bbcstrictly it’s going to be a challenge but everyone who knows me knows I love a challenge so here goes... a new chapter in my life! #strictly2018#bbcbreakfastpic.twitter.com/hVBQnloqce— Katie Piper (@KatiePiper_) August 13, 2018
Work like Piper’s is so important because, currently, it’s almost impossible to gauge the true scale of the issue. People who have experienced acid attacks often don’t report the real cause of their injuries because of shame or fear, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI).
Worldwide, about 80% of acid attacks are directed at girls and women and — as with Piper’s experience — are often by jealous partners or ex-partners.
“Attacks are often an escalation of domestic violence and rooted in gender equality, manifesting as land disputes, suspicions of infidelity, family, and ‘honour’ disputes and rivalry,” says ASTI on its website.
“It reflects and perpetuates discrimination of women and girls in society, and as such it is prohibited by international law. However, all too often it’s a crime that goes unreported and unpunished: survivors of acid attacks live in fear of reprisals for reporting the attack.”
Acid causes skin and tissue to melt, leaving victims facing permanent disfigurement, medical complications, psychological trauma, and, in many cases, social ostracisation — with survivors often requiring long-term support.
In Colombia, which as one of the highest rates of attack per capita of any country, perpetrators are overwhelmingly men, while victims are mostly women, says ASTI on its website.
In Pakistan, too, it’s estimated that up to 400 women fall victim to acid attacks perpetrated by their husbands or in-laws each year — but due to underreporting only 1,500 cases have been documented over the past 10 years.
Meanwhile, the UK also has one of the highest rates of recorded acid attacks per capita in the world. In fact, there’s been a 90% increase in acid violence in the UK over the past decade, according to ASTI, and the number of attacks has more than trebled since 2014.
London, particularly, is a hotspot for acid attacks. And, while most victims of acid attacks worldwide are women, most victims in Britain are men — with attacks often linked to gang violence or robberies, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Outside of London, however, just over half of victims were women.
As well as the horrific emotional and physical impact attacks can have on survivors, the rising rate of acid attacks is also have a serious impact on the economy. Analysis released in July estimated that acid attacks are costing Britain £60 million every year — with each individual attack costing around £63,000.
In an effort to control the spate of acid attacks in the UK, the British government introduced a new Offensive Weapons Bill in March, to ban the sale of corrosives to under-18s and make it a crime to have a corrosive substance in a public place without good reason.