Powerful Photos Help Tell Stories Of Acid Attack Survivors

All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
When Makima's neighbor in Kolkata, India, proposed to her, she turned him down. Instead of accepting the rejection and moving on, the suitor's mother went to Makima's house one night and poured acid on her face. Acid is often used to attack women who transgress some imaginary line, from spurning romantic advances to wearing a veil too loosely. The damage can be devastating. In/Visible, a series of photos by German artist Ann-Christine Woehrl, is an attempt to help bring more attention to acid violence and women like Makima who are victimized by it every year.

The survivors of acid and burn attacks — who are overwhelmingly female — must confront more than just a changed face in the mirror. They are often ostracized from their communities and families, and unable to continue working at their old jobs. In countries where attacks are more common, such as India and Bangladesh, advocates have had to fight to even get these attacks classified as a specific crime, and to make it harder for perpetrators to find and buy acid.

Jaf Shah, the executive director of Acid Survivors Trust International, told us in an email that although as many as 1,500 attacks are recorded each year, "the real figure is likely to be far higher. There could be as many as 1,000 attacks a year in India alone, but many attacks go unreported. Survivors of acid attacks live in fear of reprisals for reporting the attack. They also know that their chances of achieving a prosecution are tiny."

After attacks that can literally render women faceless, the survivors have to fight to be seen and appreciated. "The fact that I was giving them my ear and listening to what they had to say, looking at them and acknowledging them, I think that probably was essential for them and made them open up," said Woehrl. During the three years she worked on the project, Woehrl traveled to six countries and met dozens of women. Though some of them women were injured in accidents or hurt themselves, all of her subjects shared stories of domestic violence and resilience.

Just providing a sympathetic audience for the women she was working with helped build a rapport with them. "That’s really lacking when you are stigmatized; people just tend to not look and not listen anymore to what you have to say," Woehrl said. But there are activists who are trying to change things. Groups like Acid Survivors Trust International help women get medical care for their injuries, find work, and advocate for better laws; in Bangladesh, the number of acid attacks has dropped dramatically, from nearly 500 in 2002 to less than 100 in 2011.

One thing that Woehrl often hears from her subjects is that despite the trauma these women went through, it has opened up unexpected opportunities to grow as people. "I think of the emotional support you probably need to get the first step to move forward and to accept yourself and say, 'Okay, that’s the new me.' A lot of women told me that they appreciated more the person they were now than before," she said. "For them, it was almost a chance to get them to know themselves on a much deeper level, and to get their inner resources awakened."

Take a look at some of Woehrl's powerful photos of these resilient women from around the world.

ASTI is a leading organization working to combat acid violence and support survivors in their recovery. For more on how you can help, see their website.

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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Makima, Kolkata, India, 2014

A neighbor wanted to marry Makima. She refused the proposal. While Makima was sleeping at night, his mother came over to her house and poured acid into Makima's face. The perpetrator's family paid Makima a compensation so she would drop the charge. It is Makima's dream to become a police officer to fight for more justice.
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Sokneang, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2013

Sokneang worked as a singer at a karaoke club in Preah Vihear in 2005. One evening, as she was watching TV, a woman approached Sokneang and threw acid on her. The woman was thought to be the jealous wife of a man who visited the club regularly. The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity trained the 33-year-old in tailoring.

Caption by Ann-Christine Woehrl
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Neehaari, holding a photograph of her taken just before her suicide attempt, 2012. Neehaari is from Hyderabad, India. When Woehrl met her, she told us, "She had tried to commit suicide because she was abused so badly by her husband."
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Said Woehrl, "There was the plastic surgeon Dr. Lakshmi from Hyderabad, who had operated on her, and she said, “Why don’t you come to my clinic and you can work as my personal assistant and take care of new patients at the front desk,” who would go there for plastic surgery – for embellishment. Somebody had the courage to say, ‘Okay, I’m taking someone into my clinic, and she will attend [to] new patients who would really go for a totally different motive and confront women with a different reality’ These are essential steps to take for all the women, and for general awareness."
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
"I still feel uncomfortable sometimes, but then I think why should I hide my face? In India, people do not accept defects. I want to change this mentality and help burn survivors," Neehaari told Woehrl. "They really need mental support. Only burn patients know what other burn patients have to go through. So I want to start a charity. I already have a name for it: Beauty of Burnt Women's Heart."
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Sidra, Lahore, Pakistan, 2014

As Sidra was staying overnight at a friend's house in 2011, she woke up in the middle of the night when her friend’s brother tried to molest her. She started shouting. The boy's mother was afraid that Sidra would cause a scandal and told her son to throw acid on the 15-year-old girl. The attack left her nearly blind. The perpetrator was sentenced to 25 years and his mother to three years in prison.

Caption by Ann-Christine Woehrl
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Christine and Moses, Kampala, Uganda, 2014

Three years ago, when she was 16, Christine was attacked by the ex-girlfriend of her boyfriend Moses. Moses stood by her, and today they have a little daughter. Her perpetrator was sentenced to eight years in prison. Christine stays in the house most of the time. She does not like to show herself in public.

Caption by Ann-Christine Woehrl
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Flavia getting ready in her parents' home in Kampala, Uganda, 2014.
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Flavia at her friend's modeling school, Kampala, Uganda, 2014

"I help out at a friend's modeling school, teaching communication. If my friend had asked me two years back, I would have said no, how can I be around models!" Flavia said when she spoke with Woehrl. "Now I am not scared anymore. I get my confidence from the fact that I have this knowledge that they need."
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Flavia in her parents' home, with her best friends Marion and Rita. Kampala, Uganda, 2014

"Recently, I started to go out without a scarf. This is me after all. Even if I cover the scars, they are still there. People just have to accept me the way I am. And I actually love myself now," Flavia told Woehrl. "I look in the mirror, have my photo taken, put on makeup. It has taught me to appreciate inner beauty more, even in other people. So I am trying to be proud of what is in my heart. I have no pain now, just scars. I even forget that I look different. I feel like I am back to the Flavia I was, or an even better one. I am happy.”

Caption by Ann-Christine Woehrl
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
2014, Kathmandu, Nepal

Renuka doing her daily workout, stretching her body to keep her burnt skin from stiffening.

Caption by Ann-Christine Woehrl
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Cambodia, 2013

Chantheoun on her bed in her one-room apartment on the outskirts of Phnomh Penh, getting dressed.

Caption by Ann-Christine Woehrl
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Islamabad, Pakistan, 2014

Nusrat in a taxi driving to her doctor for a hair transplant.
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All Photos: Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism/Edition Lammerhuber
Api, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2012

When Api learned that her husband had another wife, she divorced him and returned to her parents’ house. The 19-year-old went back to school and did not consider getting married again. One night, the other wife of her ex-husband came and threw acid at her neck. Once Api was out of hospital, the woman attacked her again.

Caption by Ann-Christine Woehrl
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