SINGAPORE — A woman who slapped an Indonesian domestic helper with so much force that it caused her nose to bleed was jailed for six months on Thursday (4 March), with the judge noting that her mental condition did not justify the use of violence.
Ong Si Mien, 39, had began suffering from post-natal depression at the time of the offences, but an Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist had deemed that the condition had only partially diminished her ability to exercise self-control.
Commenting on Ong's psychiatric condition, District Judge Eddy Tham noted that her condition made her more prone to lash out, and that she would have been triggered by trivial events which would not have affected an ordinary person to the same extent.
However, the judge added that this was not justification for her use of violence, as she had known clearly that what she was doing was wrong. Nonetheless, DJ Tham factored the condition into account in the sentence.
Ong, who was in the dock, had her hair covering her face but could be heard crying throughout the proceedings.
She had earlier pleaded guilty to three out of six counts of voluntarily causing hurt to 33-year-old Yulia, who had first come to work in Singapore on 16 July 2016. The remaining charges, involving hitting the maid’s mouth so that it bled, and slapping her cheek twice, will be taken into consideration for her sentencing. All the offences occurred between July and September 2016.
Judge would have been more sympathetic had abuse stopped after 1st instance
A few weeks into Yulia's employment, she was in the kitchen with Ong when the employer scolded her for keeping all the metal bowls in the cupboard instead of leaving three bowls on the shelves.
Ong then took a few bowls out and hit the side of Yulia’s head with the base of one bowl. Yulia saw that the bowl was slightly dented after the incident. The maid approached Ong’s husband in the living room and said she wanted to be transferred back to the agency.
However Ong said that the maid was “not allowed to be transferred” and scolded Yulia – who only goes by one name – for talking to her husband.
Had Ong stopped after the first instance of abuse, the court would have taken a more sympathetic view, said DJ Tham. Instead, she had refused the maid's request to be transferred and chose to vent her anger and frustration on the maid.
A few weeks after the first offence, Ong assaulted Yulia again. In August 2016, Yulia was about to take a shower after being instructed by Ong’s mother-in-law to boil some Chinese herbs. Ong came home then and asked her why she was showering at a later time.
She scolded the maid before answering a phone in the flat. After finishing the call, Ong used the phone to hit Yulia on top of her head. Despite her pain, Yulia remained in front of Ong as Ong had instructed Yulia to remain still when Ong was angry at her.
When Yulia again requested for a transfer, Ong refused and told her she would transfer her to India.
On 24 September 2016, Ong told Yulia to change her four-year-old son’s clothes and watched as the maid did so. She scolded Yulia for putting on her son’s pants wrongly and slapped the victim’s face, causing her nose to bleed.
After Ong left the flat with her son, Yulia decided to leave. She took her belongings and walked to Jalan Kayu with only some coins she had brought with her from Indonesia. She sought help from a passerby at a bus stop in Jalan Kayu, who called the police.
Rejection of fine and mandatory treatment order suitability report
DJ Tham noted that it was fortunate that Yulia managed to get the help so that the abuse came to an end, otherwise the violence was likely to have continued unabated.
For these reasons, the judge rejected imposing a fine and the calling for a mandatory treatment order suitability report – which was what Ong's lawyer, Amarjit Singh, had sought in a previous hearing.
"I find that deterrence and retribution would take precedence, thus I do not find the need to call for a suitability report," said DJ Tham, noting that Ong could get appropriate treatment for her condition while in prison.
Ong has since compensated Yulia with $5,200, which includes four months of her salary for the period she was unemployed.
A charge of voluntarily causing hurt carries a jail term of up to two years, and/or a fine of up to $5,000. As Ong is an employer who caused hurt to a maid under her employ, her punishment may be enhanced by up to one and a half times.
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