By Johanna Mendelson, VOXXI

A recent news story in the Washington Post by Juan Forero called attention to a distressing situation in Colombia: acid attacks on women, similar to those that have been used to maim women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In spite of its long conflict one does not associate this type of crime with Colombia, or for that matter any other place in the Western Hemisphere.

NOTE: GRAPHIC PHOTOS BELOW

But the alarming rise in these dreadful attacks underscores what has long been a constant in Colombia: ongoing violence that has now morphed into an irrational variation of machismo misogyny. Hate crimes in a macho culture involve giving license to any man who thinks being young, pretty and independent merits an acid attack as revenge. The women who have been attacked have been victims of domestic violence. One case cited by Forero was that of a jealous boyfriend who paid a “sicario” or young hit man, to throw acid at his girlfriend in return for $1.75.

Last year there were 150 reported acid attacks in Colombia. As of last month 100 had been reported, thus making it likely that this year’s figures will be even higher. Acid violence rarely kills, but it causes severe physical, psychological and social scarring. Moreover, victims often have no legal recourse, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International, a UK-based advocacy group for victims of such attacks.

But what is the Colombian government doing about this specific form of violence? President Juan Manuel Santos condemned the attacks, but it is unclear whether the police in the cities or military who often patrol the rural areas have been sensitive to this type of crime or for that matter, crimes arising from domestic violence. And herein lies the problem for Colombia.

colombia acid attack victim
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - JUNE 27: Mrs. Consuelo Cordoba, 51, talks to a city hall employee in Bogota, Colombia, on June 27, 2012.Mrs. Cordoba suffered an acid attack by a boyfriend 11 years ago. (Photo by Carlos Villalon/for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Acid attacks, however, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence against women. Cristina Plazas, the country’s chief advisor on women’s equality, notes that Colombia’s problem is not the guerrillas or paramilitaries, but the men who perpetrate acts of domestic violence against women. According to Plazas, 60 percent of the 51,182 reported incidents of domestic violence against women took place inside their homes. In addition, sexual violence has long been used by various paramilitary and guerilla groups to suppress women. Rape is a crime of war, but in the case of Colombia’s internal conflict, there is no recourse to international legal action due to the nature of the conflict. National courts fall short on prosecuting crimes of sexual violence. As women’s advisor Plazas notes, “women’s rights cannot be pigeonholed as a separate or even minority issue.” Women make up half the national population.

The enduring culture of machismo trumps the need to consider violence against women as a criminal act worthy of serious pursuit. As the U.S. continues to assist Colombia in its ongoing struggle to end a 60 year-old conflict, U.S. Global Ambassador for Women, Melanne Verveer, who recently traveled to Colombia, underscored our own government’s commitment to end gender violence and promote public awareness about this issue. In her first public meeting upon arriving in Colombia in March, Verveer met with journalist and activist Jineth Bedoya, whose movement, “Take my Body out of War, has been leading the public awareness campaign. Verveer took the message of the group directly to President Santos and Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon: the government must adopt a zero tolerance approach to gender-based violence and be prepared to prosecute those who act with impunity.

These words should not ring hollow in a country who is one of our most trusted allies in the hemisphere. U.S. taxpayers continue to support the training of Colombia’s police and military. We also provide assistance to those who have been displaced by armed conflict. We also continue to support access to justice programs. Accountability in Colombia must not fall short when it comes to the women who are victims of violence—it is the least we can do to assist the search for peace. There has been progress, but it is still a steep hill to climb, as the rise in acid attacks and the uptick of domestic violence make Colombia a dangerous place for women.

Johanna Mendelson Forman is a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Americas Program and a Scholar-in-Residence at American University, Washington, D.C. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent those of either CSIS or American University.

Originally published by VOXXI

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  • An Afghan woman, her face scarred from a

    An Afghan woman, her face scarred from an acid attack, marches with other demonstrators to protest the recent public execution of a young woman for alleged adultery, in Kabul on July 11, 2012. Dozens of Afghan women's rights activists took to the streets July 11 to protest the recent public execution of a young woman for alleged adultery, which was captured in ahorrific video. AFP PHOTO/Massoud HOSSAINI (Photo credit should read MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Acid attack victim Patricia Lefranc spea

    Acid attack victim Patricia Lefranc speaks to a journalist ahead of the assize trial of Richard Remes, outside the Assize Court of Brussels in Brussels on March 21, 2012. Richard Remes stands accused of attempted murder, after he attacked his ex-girlfriend Patricia Lefranc by throwing acid in her face. AFP PHOTO/ BELGA / DRIES LUYTEN (Photo credit should read DRIES LUYTEN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Acid attack victim and former Pakistani

    Acid attack victim and former Pakistani soldier Farooq, 24, holds up a portrait of himself before his disfigurement at Basti Maluk village in Multan on March 16, 2012. Acid attacks are among the worst forms of domestic violence in Pakistan and mostly directed at women, who are too often classified as second-class citizens. Victims are disfigured for life and ostracised by society. Pakistan's parliament late last year adopted tougher penalties for the crime, increasing the punishment to between 14 years and life, and a minimum fine of one million rupees (11,000 USD). AFP PHOTO / Bay ISMOYO (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Acid attack victim Asiya Bibe, 35, poses

    Acid attack victim Asiya Bibe, 35, poses with a portrait before her disfigurement at her residence at Bahawalpur district in Multan on March 16, 2012. Acid attacks are among the worst forms of domestic violence in Pakistan and mostly directed at women, who are too often classified as second-class citizens. Victims are disfigured for life and ostracised by society. Pakistan's parliament late last year adopted tougher penalties for the crime, increasing the punishment to between 14 years and life, and a minimum fine of one million rupees (11,000 USD). AFP PHOTO / Bay ISMOYO (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Shamim (R) and her daugher Safiea (L), b

    Shamim (R) and her daugher Safiea (L), both victims of acid attacks, prepare food for their livestock at Khanwala village in Multan on March 15, 2012. Acid attacks are among the worst forms of domestic violence in Pakistan and mostly directed at women, who are too often classified as second-class citizens. Victims are disfigured for life and ostracised by society. Pakistan's parliament late last year adopted tougher penalties for the crime, increasing the punishment to between 14 years and life, and a minimum fine of one million rupees (11,000 USD). AFP PHOTO / Bay ISMOYO (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Acid attack victim Safiea, 18, poses at

    Acid attack victim Safiea, 18, poses at her residence at Khanwala village in Multan on March 15, 2012. Acid attacks are among the worst forms of domestic violence in Pakistan and mostly directed at women, who are too often classified as second-class citizens. Victims are disfigured for life and ostracised by society. Pakistan's parliament late last year adopted tougher penalties for the crime, increasing the punishment to between 14 years and life, and a minimum fine of one million rupees (11,000 USD). AFP PHOTO / Bay ISMOYO (Photo credit should read BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)