SINGAPORE: A woman who initially sought refuge with a family after running away from home became their slave after angering one of the women by engaging in a sex act with her husband.
Four of the family members pleaded guilty on Thursday (Jan 7) to various crimes including assaulting the 30-year-old woman and lying to the police to protect the family.
Muhammad Iskandar Ismail, 32, received two months and four weeks' jail for lying to the police and voluntarily causing hurt. His brother Muhammad Iski Ismail, 29, was jailed for eight months for lying to the police and asking his brother to lie as well.
Their two sisters, 39-year-old Hasniza Ismail and 34-year-old Haslinda Ismail, will be sentenced at a later date.
The victim was made to do chores without pay, confined in the flat for one-and-a-half years and chained nightly either to a bed, a metal plate fixed to a wall or to the toilet bowl.
The two sisters and their mother, Hasmah Sulong, abused the victim by twisting her toes with a pair of pliers, knocking out her teeth with a hammer and splashing boiling water on her groin area.
Even though she suffered burn injuries and blisters and became incontinent, none of the family members called for medical help. Instead, they applied Dettol, cream or medication on the wounds.
It was only when Hasniza noticed that the victim was too weak to get up, or eat and had dark liquid flowing from her mouth and nose that she called for an ambulance.
For weeks before this, the victim had been chained half-naked to the toilet bowl in the kitchen sitting in her own excrement and eating off the bathroom floor.
She was taken to hospital and found to be dangerously ill, suffering from pneumonia and with sepsis from her burn wounds. Healthcare workers expected her to die.
The 30-year-old woman, who has intellectual disabilities and is considered a vulnerable victim, had multiple injuries over her body - deformities in her ears, 10 missing teeth, a deformed toe - and was severely malnourished.
She required eight hours of resuscitation in the Emergency Department and was transferred to another hospital in light of her severe burn injuries. She eventually recovered and was discharged more than three months after admission, but still suffers permanent deformity in her ear.
HOW IT BEGAN
The court heard that the victim got to know the Ismail family as she went to school with one of the siblings. After running away from home in early 2016, the victim began staying with them and agreed to pay the matriarch of the household, Hasmah Sulong, S$150 for laundry and slept on a mat in the living room.
Hasniza knew that the victim was intellectually slow and had mental problems, and admitted thinking of her as "a girl who was easy to eat", meaning she would comply with instructions, even those involving sexual acts.
Hasniza discussed with Haslinda that they should make the victim their "babu", or slave. Hasniza would punish the victim by slapping or hitting her whenever she did something "wrong" such as being unhygienic, lying or not obeying orders.
Between May and June 2016, Haslinda accused the victim of performing fellatio on her husband, 33-year-old Egyptian Hany Aboubakr Abdelkarim Abdelfattah. She made him slap the victim and after this incident, the family began the abuse.
READ: Man jailed for role in case of woman who was tortured by his wife's family with boiling water, pliers and hammer
On one occasion, Haslinda poured hot water from a kettle onto the victim, scalding her stomach, thigh and groin. The victim indicated she was in pain, and Haslinda told her to stop groaning or she would splash the hot liquid on her again.
Afraid, the victim did not tell anyone what happened and other family members only found out about the scalding when they noticed the victim's trousers sticking to her burn wounds.
VICTIM'S FATHER BEGGED HER TO RETURN HOME
In June 2016, the victim's father went to her workplace at a fast food outlet and pleaded with her to return home. She agreed and secretly packed her clothes as she was afraid the Ismails would not let her leave. They had earlier confiscated her passport and NRIC.
She told Haslinda she was leaving the family only after she arrived at work, but Haslinda turned up at the restaurant demanding for outstanding laundry fees and probing the victim on her reasons for leaving.
Haslinda took the victim's phone and made her follow her back to the flat. But she confined the victim in the flat and did not allow her to return to work. The victim was forced to perform household chores without pay.
She did not attempt to flee, as she was chained up at night, the court heard, and the family threatened to smear her reputation by saying they would call her a thief if she tried to escape.
The family also took the victim to clean a house in Malaysia and Haslinda once splashed hot oil on her there, causing burn injuries from her armpit to her waist and near her buttocks. The victim was made to wear a tudung when returning to Singapore to conceal the injuries on her cheek.
After the victim stopped working at the fast food outlet in June 2016, Haslinda's assaults grew worse. On her mother's instigation, she used a hammer to knock out two of the victim's upper front teeth and poured more hot water on her lower body and thighs.
Haslinda also used a pair of pliers to twist a toe on the victim's left foot while her mother Hasmah did the same to the victim's right toes.
Haslinda had alleged that the victim was stealing from her so Hasmah asked the older sister Hasniza to buy a metal chain meant for securing bicycles in order to chain the victim at night.
On most nights, Hasmah chained the victim's hands or legs to a baby swing in the living room, securing it with a padlock. She was concerned that the victim would run away or steal food, and only released her in the mornings.
After one of Hasmah's sons saw the victim shifting the swing at night to use the toilet, Hasmah instructed one of her sons to affix a metal plate with a hook to a wall so they could chain and secure the victim there.
The victim was then chained to the metal plate, with the loops around her hands or legs and occasionally around her neck. She was in this position between eight and 12 hours daily, and had to sweep and mop the house before she was allowed to eat breakfast.
She was also tasked to look after the children in the flat. On one occasion, Hasmah assumed that the victim had poked Iskandar's son with her finger as the boy's eye was red. She told Iskandar about this, but the victim denied it and he did not pursue further.
However, a few days later, he saw the victim pulling his son's hand and confronted her. When she said it was nothing, Iskandar grew angry and asked if she had poked his son's eye on purpose previously. He slapped and punched her in the stomach and performed a leg sweep, resulting in her falling to the ground.
THE HARI RAYA HAJI INCIDENT
Around the Hari Raya Haji festive period in September 2017, Haslinda asked the victim to come to her flat to help her with the celebratory preparations. When the victim got there, Haslinda refused to let her use the toilet or sleep.
Instead, Haslinda made her stand in the kitchen until the next morning. When the victim lost control of her bladder and urinated on the floor, Haslinda punched, slapped and hit her with a broomstick, hanger and towel.
She tied the victim's limbs with cable ties and made her continue standing in the kitchen in her soiled trousers even when other family members arrived for the Hari Raya celebrations.
When Hasmah arrived with two packets of rice noodles for the victim, Haslinda threw away one packet and urinated into the other, which she made the victim eat.
Sometime around October or November 2017, the victim began suffering from urinary and faecal incontinence. When her condition worsened, she was moved to the toilet and chained to the toilet bowl for most of the day.
Hasniza threw away the metal chain before the police could seize it, and the metal plate outside the room was also removed and plastered over before investigations began.
The family would admit to using the chain and metal plate later during investigations.
Haslinda moved out of the flat in October or November 2017, but returned to her family home on one occasion. When she was there again, she punched the victim twice in the stomach and made her pull her ears and do squats.
Hasniza saw this and tried to stop Haslinda, and they began quarrelling. In her anger, Hasniza used a baseball bat to hit the victim on her back and right arm. She later threw the bat away.
HER DETERIORATING STATE
From late December 2017, the victim could no longer control her bowels and was chained half-naked to the toilet bowl in the kitchen bathroom, where she sat in her own excrement and ate off the floor.
Although she was very weak by this point and an unbearable stench was emanating from her, none of the family members sought medical treatment for her, the court heard.
The abuse continued until around mid-January 2018, when the victim was too weak to get up or eat, and had a very smelly discharge coming from her vaginal area. Dark liquid was also flowing out from her mouth and nose, and Hasniza, who would clean her, noticed this.
She washed the victim's body repeatedly with 15 bottles of Dettol or alcohol, but still found the smell unbearable and noticed that the burn wounds were swelling and oozing pus.
Hasniza called for an ambulance and the victim was taken to the hospital near death. She was admitted to the intensive care unit. Doctors found that she suffered multiple injuries including large scalp lacerations, cuts on her face, cuts on her lips, deformities in both ears, damage to her cornea and burns on 30 per cent of her body.
An IQ assessment revealed that she scored in the low or extremely low ranges for several categories except her processing speed index, which could not be assessed as the victim was unable to perform the tests due to visual disability arising from the abuse.
She was examined at the Institute of Mental Health and found to have mild intellectual disability since childhood and with deficits in intellectual functions that would have affected her ability to seek help.
When they were questioned by the police, the family members initially denied the crimes on Hasniza's instruction and claimed that the victim had turned up at their house two weeks earlier. Iski, Hasniza's brother eventually told the truth.
The prosecution sought nine-and-a-half years' jail for Haslinda, calling this "an appalling case of abuse, cruelty and vileness". The victim treated the Ismails as her family, but they essentially treated her as a slave, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Ang Feng Qian.
SHE WAS ABUSED BY FAMILY: DEFENCE FOR HASLINDA
Haslinda's lawyer Audrey Koo said her client "has not had an easy life" and had a "tumultuous relationship with her family".
She claimed that Haslinda was abused by her family since she was young and molested by her father. During the offences in 2017, her father died and her husband was jailed in Malaysia, while she suffered a miscarriage, said Ms Koo.
Haslinda was also made to pay rent, and the lawyer said that if she did not, her mother or sister would chase her and her children out of the flat. Her child was also diagnosed with global development disorder, and Haslinda has been suffering from depression, said Ms Koo.
The lawyer added that Haslinda "felt provoked" by the victim during some of the acts, claiming that the victim made offensive comments about Haslinda's son being "illegitimate and not circumcised".
She argued that Hasmah, being the head of the household, instigated the abuse and chaining. "Haslinda also lived under the mercy of Hasmah and the rest of the family," she said.
After Haslinda moved out, she was "completely unaware of the state of the victim" and was "shocked and horrified by the extent of the abuse" when her lawyers showed her photos.
Haslinda's husband was given three weeks' jail in November for his role in the case, while Hasmah's case is pending in the High Court.