BEYOND THE SCARS.
At only 19, Kirungi Linneti became the victim of an acid attack from her ex-lover. She turned tragedy into triumph by rising above the scars and is now a renowned activist in Uganda. Her inspiring story brings hope to many women and girls who are the main victims of this heinous act.
It is estimated that there are over 1,500 acid attacks annually in the world, yet this is a crime that often goes unreported for fear of reprisal. An acid attack is an intended act of throwing a corrosive substance on the face and body of a victim, causing long-term scarring, physical disfigurement, and sometimes permanent disability. It is becoming a rampant form of gender-based violence as it aims to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill. Most of the victims end up in total denial while others commit suicide.
In 2012 Linneti was burnt with acid by her violent and obsessed ex-lover, when she was only nineteen years, for turning down his marriage proposal —an incident that almost claimed her life. She had just finished high school and was eagerly waiting to join university when she noticed his behavior change. He started tracking her whereabouts through her phone, diverting her calls to his and went as far as hiring spies to monitor her movements. It became intolerable but she stayed, believing that he would change.
After the holidays, she joined the university and was lucky to secure a job that would help her get by. When she shared the news with her boyfriend, he rejected the notion, saying he was against her working in a male-dominated company. They came to a compromise, agreeing that he would help her get a better job. He failed to do so. Eventually, she took the initial offer and that was when things went from bad to worse. He hacked her phone, contacted all her male colleagues, and warned them to keep off his wife.
When Linneti finally joined the university, she opted to stay in a nearby hostel, a decision he was also against. He rented a two-roomed house hoping that they would move in together as a married couple, a vision she didn’t share since her goal was to focus on her studies before getting married. She then requested him to meet her parents first, and inform them that they intended to stay together, something he refused to do.
It finally dawned on her that their relationship wasn’t going anywhere when he raised his hands on her because he thought she was deceiving him. He had requested a meet up which she agreed to, but only after she was done with her exams. Due to his insecurity, he checked her timetable to confirm whether this was indeed true only to find out that it was set for the following day.
She tried to explain that she needed the extra day to prepare for the exam but he would hear none of it. This was when he attempted to slap her but she grabbed his hand before he could. She had had enough and asked to end the relationship. He threatened to kill her and any man that would come between them; a threat she assumed was being made out of anger.
The following morning as she set off for the university she recalls hearing footsteps following her and a voice beckoning her from behind. Suddenly a figure dressed in dark clothing, and carrying a blue bucket, poured something on her face. The burning sensation she felt elicited screams from her. A man who was nearby tried to salvage the situation by pouring water on her but her hair caught fire, adding more injuries on one side of her face.
She ran into the middle of the road ready to die but for more than two hours, no one came to her rescue. She was eventually taken to the burns unit at Mulago Hospital for further treatment. For over a year she underwent six surgeries, including one to detach her neck from her shoulders. She lost an ear but luckily, after two months, her eyesight was restored.
During that time, she interacted with other acid and burn survivors. In some instances, the attackers would come to confirm whether their victims had survived or not. After treatment, Linneti went back to complete her education. Out of fear of the unfair treatment she would face, she put on a veil to hide her identity and managed to graduate with a Degree in Social Sciences.
Her passion for supporting acid attacks and burn survivors grew stronger so she did a counseling course. Doctors at the burns unit usually invite her to hold counselling sessions for fellow survivors.
Linneti established Hope Care Rescue Mission, a nonprofit organization that supports acid attack and burn survivors, victims of GBV, and other marginalized people in Uganda. It offers counselling, palliative care support, and empowerment programs, among others. They also do follow-ups on the survivors to find out how they are coping and later on, carry out an assessment. They also empower their dependents with hands-on skills like arts and crafts.
Sadly, her ex-boyfriend was never held accountable. She is fighting to make sure such cases cease through an ongoing petition demanding for the Ugandan Government to pass a law against acid attacks. ‘We know from legal initiatives in other countries that the best way to fight this is by enforcing tougher laws on the sale of acid, and punishment for perpetrators. Presently, someone convicted of an acid attack can be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
‘Not only is this very lenient for an act of attempted murder but perpetrators are rarely charged. Of the over two hundred acid attack survivors that I have worked with, only twenty percent of their perpetrators were charged or faced any legal consequence for their actions.’
Linnet finally met the love of her life, ten years later, who genuinely loves and appreciates her. She encourages other survivors to never lose hope in themselves and encourages women and girls to never compromise in toxic relationships.