SINGAPORE — After months of relentless abuse, a domestic helper decide to climb out her fifth-floor unit’s kitchen window, down a floor into her neighbour’s unit in order to escape her abuser.
The abuser, a 41-year-old Singaporean woman, had tried to choke the domestic helper with a towel, pushed her head into a wall, and also kicked her multiple times.
After the maid fled, the woman inflicted abuse on her own daughter, then nine, by pressing the metal tip of a hot lighter onto the girl’s forearm twice, causing blisters. This was after the girl did not follow her instructions to vacuum the room amid studying for her examinations.
The woman pleaded guilty on Friday (15 October) to two counts of voluntarily causing hurt to her maid, and one count of ill-treating her daughter. Another count of assault, and of perverting the course of justice by instructing her daughter to lie to the police, will be considered for her sentencing.
She has been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) presented with psychotic symptoms, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder. She had experienced hallucinations telling her that the maid would harm her with a knife.
An Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist found that her condition had substantially contributed to the acts of offending as her MDD made her more irritable and less able to control her impulses. The psychiatrist assessed that her risk of reoffending was low if she continued treatment.
None of the parties can be named as the court has imposed a gag order on all their identities.
Worsening abuse as woman tried to choke maid with towel
The maid, a 28-year-old Indonesian, was hired by the woman’s husband and resided with the family in Hougang. She began working in March 2017, and was tasked to care for the daughter and to do general household chores.
She earned a monthly salary of $580 with no days off, and was not allowed to use a mobile phone. She was required to wake at 4.30am and would sometimes finish work past midnight. She was also forbidden from leaving the house unless it was to accompany the woman.
From March to November 2017, the maid had no issues in the household, though the woman would sometimes scold her for making mistakes or being slow.
The woman’s first assault on the maid was to slap her twice in the face, causing her to cry, in an incident in December 2017.
From January 2018, the woman began hitting the maid almost daily by stepping on her hand and pulling her hair for mistakes such as oversleeping. The woman also demanded that the maid finish the housework in certain rooms by the time she woke up.
On the morning of a day in January 2018, the victim was cleaning the living room. When the woman saw that she had not finished cleaning, she began scolding the maid, slapping her and kicking her leg, causing her to fall backwards. The woman grabbed the victim's hair and pushed her head into a nearby wall.
The woman then retrieved a towel from her bedroom, rolled it up and placed it around the victim’s neck. She then pulled on both ends, choking the victim. The woman released the crying maid less than a minute later.
Fled via climbing out of kitchen window
On 20 March 2018, the helper went to sleep at 1.30am but woke an hour later to do her chores. She sat near the kitchen toilet at 5.15am and dozed off. When the woman saw the maid fast sleep, she kicked her right shoulder, causing the maid to fall into the toilet.
She scolded the maid and pushed her shoulder, causing the maid to fall onto the toilet bowl. The woman then kicked her leg a few times.
Around 1pm that day, the distraught maid decided to leave as she no longer could take the abuse. When she saw her male employer and the woman in their room, she took the opportunity to climb out the kitchen window, down a floor and into a neighbour’s unit. The unit's occupants saw her and called the police, observing that the maid was crying.
The maid was then conveyed to hospital and treated for bruises, scratches on her earlobe and arms and abrasions. She was suspected to have an undisplaced rib fracture, but did not follow up on the injury.
Burned daughter with lighter
The woman was also found to have abused her daughter in 2019.
On 7 or 8 October 2019, the daughter was studying for her exam in the living room when her mother wanted her to vacuum the floor. The girl did not do so as she wanted to study first.
After the woman lit some candles at an altar, she approached her daughter, who stood up expecting to be scolded. The woman then pressed metal tip of lighter, which was still hot, onto her daughter’s forearm twice for total of five seconds. She shifted the metal tip after a few seconds.
The girl called her father through a video-call function on WhatsApp, telling him about the abuse and he saw that her forearm was red with blisters. The husband then called his wife, who claimed that she had caught the girl playing with the lighter. The woman lied that she had poked the girl on the wrist with the lighter to scare her, and had not known that the tip was hot.
On 18 October 2019, the daughter was brought to the hospital by an officer from the Ministry of Social and Family Development. She was found with healing burn marks on her forearm.
In her statement to the police recorded on 24 April 2018, the woman did not mention experiencing hallucinations about her helper harming her.
The woman will be sentenced on 20 October.
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