SINGAPORE: A heavily pregnant woman was jailed for eight weeks on Wednesday (May 5) for abusing her domestic helper by hitting and slapping her, as well as forcing her to eat dirty cotton wool and hair off the toilet floor.
Tan Hui Mei, 35, was also ordered to pay the victim S$3,200 in compensation or serve another 16 days' jail in default.
Tan pleaded guilty to two charges of voluntarily causing hurt to a domestic helper, with three other charges considered in sentencing.
The court heard that Tan, an administrator, lived with her husband, her mother and her three daughters at the time of the offences.
The victim, a 24-year-old Indonesian woman, began working for Tan in November 2018 for S$600 a month. She was tasked with household chores, cooking and caring for Tan's youngest daughter, a toddler at the time.
Sometime between November 2018 and March 2019, Tan made the victim eat a piece of dirty cotton wool on the dining table and watched as she placed it in her mouth.
In the same period, she also instructed the maid to eat hair that was on the toilet floor and also watched her do so.
In December 2018, the victim called the police to say that Tan had slapped her a few times as she was unhappy with her work performance, but the victim decided to return to Tan's home to continue working for her.
On the morning of Mar 30, 2019, the victim bathed and fed Tan's toddler before leaving the child in a room with Tan's mother and second daughter.
When the toddler began crying, the victim did not attend to her as she thought Tan's mother or other daughter would do so.
Tan, who was sleeping in her own room, confronted the victim and asked why she did not take care of the toddler. When the victim tried to explain, Tan slapped both sides of her face and hit her forehead three times, causing it to swell.
The victim did not retaliate and continued doing her household chores.
The next night, Tan called the victim to her bedroom and said she could not sleep as her legs were aching. She asked the victim to massage her legs, but the victim fell asleep while doing so.
Tan pinched her forearm and told her not to close her eyes. The victim felt pain and continued the massage.
The victim later told her sister what happened, and her sister called the Centre for Domestic Employees for help. Police went to Tan's home, and the victim was taken to hospital with bruises on her forehead and arm.
When Tan was first investigated, she denied committing the offences. The victim was unemployed for seven months from April 2019 until she found work with a new household in December 2019, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Kathy Chu.
Ms Chu asked for at least 12 to 15 weeks' jail and a compensation order of at least S$3,200 for the victim's pain and lost earnings.
OFFENCES OUT OF CHARACTER: DEFENCE
Defence lawyer Genesa Tan asked at first for a probation report or a fine. When the judge rejected this, she asked for not more than six weeks' jail and a smaller compensation order.
She said her client is a first-time offender and the offences are "completely out of character for her". Tan has been employing domestic helpers for more than 10 years with no issue, and one former maid wrote a testimonial about her good treatment.
She said the instance where the victim made a previous police report resulted in no action as the police found that it was "unfounded". After this, Tan had made more conscientious effort to make the victim feel at home, said the lawyer.
The incidents occurred in the short span of about a month, said the lawyer, adding that her client is unable to explain her actions except to say it was impulsive and she is remorseful.
Tan, who is in her last trimester of pregnancy, asked to speak to the judge directly.
She said she knew she was in the wrong and asked for leniency, saying she has three children and a fourth on the way, with a sickly mother who needs reminding to take her medication.
"I just want you to know, I know I am wrong, and my family needs me, and I also don't wish to give birth in prison and be separate from my children," she said.
The judge said sentencing norms for abuse of domestic helpers are usually jail terms unless there are exceptional circumstances, which are not present in this case.
He noted the two acts of physical hurt, as well as the psychological harm for the charges taken into consideration of eating cotton wool and hair.