I got a call last week from a maid who works in Little India named Josie. She approached me in my capacity as a writer for TWC2 as she wanted to share her story.
Josie, who is from Abra province in the Philippines and heralds from a family of seven, has worked in Singapore since 2009 for two families. She stayed with her first employer until February 2011, returned home and came back to Singapore in March 2012 to work again.
But the second job ended last week when she ran away following a series of beatings by her employer of just one month.
According to Josie, she was subjected to several physical attacks – it is by no means uncommon to find employers who scold and abuse foreign workers, but it is rare to have a girl willing to stand up for herself. Most girls tend to suffer in silence.
Josie says one of the beatings happened when she failed to lock the front door. The sequence of questions I asked her are below and lead up to her decision to run away last week and call the police.
Why did you run away?
“Because she hit me and scolded me a lot.”
What did you do when she hit you?
“Nothing. I just sat on the floor and she hit me. Then she went through my bag and emptied it on the table…. she thought I had stolen from the family.”
How did you respond to this? “Nothing. Blank.”
Where did she hit you?
“Head, then arm. Twice. Head once, arm twice.”
Did you tell her to stop?
What did they say to you?
“I couldn’t understand the couple when they spoke, they were speaking a different language.”
In fact Josie was quite brave. She told her cousin about the beatings and scoldings and then gave her cousin her employer’s mobile phone.
Her cousin called to ask her employer to send Josie back to her agency, but giving away her employer’s phone number led to further punishment – more beatings.
In the end, she couldn’t take any more. She ran away. Her cousin called the police and last week three officers turned up at the flat to question the employer.
Josie wasn’t present for the interview, but she said the police advised her to return to her agency the next day.
The police said they couldn’t do anything because they had not seen the beating. But Josie has bruises on her arm, which she shows me during the interview.
For her abuse, the employer had the indignity of having to explain her actions on her doorstep of her family home at ten o’clock at night. But that pales in comparison to the indignity suffered by Josie, through the weeks of abuse she endured.
No employer has a right to strike a foreign domestic worker, and no foreign domestic worker is obligated to work for a person that doesn’t treat them with the respect that they deserve.
I asked Josie finally why she was brave enough to seek help and speak to us.
“I wanted to tell my story because she said I was a needy person, that I needed her job.”
Unfortunately, too many foreign domestic workers are stuck behind closed doors, quietly suffering, being told they’re not good enough.