The four victims shared much in common. They were all young Japanese women passing through Takasaki, a city two hours from Tokyo. They had all gone shopping, only to feel something stinging their legs. And they had all looked down to find sulfuric acid eating away at their flesh.
Five days after the horrific acid attacks began, Japanese police say they have caught the man responsible for one of the attacks and are investigating his possible involvement in the other three, the Japan Times reported. Noriaki Kitamura, an unemployed man from Takasaki, has denied the charge.
Perhaps more bizarre than the incident itself is the fact that this isn’t the first time recently that a Japanese man has been caught attacking a woman’s legs or feet with acid. Two years ago, another Japanese man was arrested for trying to kill a co-worker by secretly filling her shoes with noxious chemicals.
The most recent arrest comes at a time when acid attacks against women appear to be on the rise around the world.
Little is known about the acid assaults in Takasaki. They began on Thursday, when a 44-year-old woman who was shopping near the city’s train station suddenly felt a pain in her right leg. She called the police, who found traces of sulfuric acid on her skin as well as damage to her cardigan and bag, according to the Japan Times.
Two more attacks were reported that same day, according to the newspaper. An hour after the first incident, a 23-year-old woman suffered burns to her ankle at a mall several miles away. A 21-year-old college student also reported burns to her left foot at the mall. Her sweater and stockings were partially dissolved from the acid, Japan Times reported. On Monday, a fourth woman reported being splashed with acid, this time at the Takasaki train station shopping center where the attacks began.
It isn’t clear how, exactly, the women were sprayed with acid. But police from Gunma Prefecture put out a surveillance photo of their suspect: a dapper young man dressed in tight clothes and pointy shoes and carrying a large black bag who allegedly had been acting suspiciously near the incidents.
On Tuesday, Gunma police announced that they had arrested 30-year-old Noriaki Kitamura in connection with one of the crimes.
The arrest came two years after Tatsujiro Fukazawa, 40, was accused of filling his female co-worker’s shoes with hydrofluoric acid. Fukazawa and his victim worked together in a laboratory in Gotemba, southwest of Tokyo. Local police told CNN that Fukazawa had developed “romantic feelings” toward the woman, who ended up losing the tips of five toes to the attack. He was ultimately given a seven-year prison sentence.
Japan is far from the only country where men have attacked women with acid, often in crimes with romantic or sexual motives. India has a long history of horrific acid attacks against women, in which their faces are splashed as a symbolic revenge for spurned advances or familial disputes. Such attacks are on the rise in India. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, 225 acid attacks were reported in India between 2010 and 2012. The crime has become so common there that courts have ordered police to keep records on who buys corrosive chemicals.
According to the Acid Survivors Trust International, 1,500 people are attacked with acid every year.
In Afghanistan, Islamist extremists have thrown acid at teenage girls‘ unveiled faces in an attempt to scare them away from school. In 2013, two British girls were doused with acid while volunteering in Zanzibar. And in a rare role reversal, a South African teenager recently poured battery acid on her boyfriend’s private parts as revenge for posting an explicit sex video of them online. “I never intended to kill his penis,” the girl told a local newspaper. “I was just angry and all I wanted was to make him feel the pain I was feeling.”
In perhaps the most famous acid attack, Sergei Filin, the director of the Bolshoi Ballet, was splashed in the face with sulfuric acid over a dancing dispute in January 2013.
The vast majority of acid attacks are against women, however. Some victims appear to be targeted simply for their beauty, and the corrosive chemicals often leave them disfigured. In India, a campaign called Stop Acid Attacks has tried to make these women feel more comfortable by releasing a calendar featuring acid victims.