9:30am — the phone rang. On the line was a TWC2 volunteer telling us about a Filipina domestic worker Mercedes (not her real name) who was crying for help in a shopping mall. We advised the volunteer to send Mercedes to our office as soon as the worker had calmed down.
When she arrived at our door, even though by then it had been hours since the incident — and we still knew very little by way of detail — TWC2 social worker Karno noticed that she was still crying and shaking badly. “Clearly traumatised” was his assessment.
Her story was that she was awakened with a start just before dawn that morning to find her employer on top of her, prising up her T-shirt. She begged him to stop but he ignored her, so she had to struggle to break free. Fortunately, he then disengaged.
When the rest of the household awoke — there were apparently twelve foreign students staying there and it was Mercedes’ job to cook for them and do their laundry — “Sir” became extra-nice to her. It’s not clear exactly what happened between the incident and the breakfast, but quite likely she would have been in a state of shock.
Around 9am, the employer sent her out to to make grocery purchases, and it was when she was at the shopping centre that she met a friend and had a chance to call others. Eventually, the message came to TWC2.
TWC2 swings into action
At the office, and after taking the case history, there were several things to do. Fortunately, this was made easier by Mercedes’s agreement to file a police report. Not all victims choose this route — see the case as detailed in Part 1, for example.We then brought her to the police station closest to TWC2’s office, but after filing the report, we were asked to take her to the Cantonment Police Complex for a more detailed interview. This we did immediately.
Meanwhile a report was also lodged at the Ministry of Manpower.
Then, with our caseworker Karno and intern Wei Zhen in tow, she was taken by the police to the condominium where she used to work, so that she could retrieve some of her belongings. The police then released her into TWC2’s care.
The day was hardly over. In the evening, we took her to a hospital for a medical examination; she had a bruise on her thigh. The doctor who examined her was ‘super nice’, very patient and understanding, said Wei Zhen. It wasn’t until nearly midnight before we could send Mercedes to our shelter. Both Wei Zhen and Karno were exhausted.
Mercedes’ salary for the final month soon became an issue. The boss wanted to deduct $250. It’s not clear what reason was given, but it was something along the lines of it being a bonus, which he wanted to retract.
In actual fact however, it was five months of $50 per month, given as extra money to Mercedes to do the cooking and laundry for the twelve students staying in the same apartment. It isn’t clear if a foreign domestic worker is allowed by the regulations to do this on top of her job; if the employer had known that this is against the rules, then one might even characterise the $50 monthly as a form of hush money.
To TWC2’s surprise, MOM’s response was that the boss was permitted to deduct this $250 from Mercedes’ final salary. Neither TWC2 nor Mercedes agreed with such a decision, but there weren’t any practical routes open to reverse it.
The employment agency was also very insensitive to ask Mercedes to show up for a meeting at their premises with the employer. This breaches the first rule of victim protection protocol: no victim should be asked to confront her alleged abuser except in carefully controlled and necessary situations such as a courtroom. Naturally, Mercedes refused to go, and authorised TWC2 to represent her instead. We can’t discuss details of such meetings; all we can say is that offers were made by the employer to “settle” the matter.
Mercedes did not want to consider any such offer. In any case, it’s not so simple now. Having made a police report, the matter is in the hands of the State and has its own momentum. This case may end up in the courtroom and the press.
Meanwhile, Mercedes needs to continue to earn a living. TWC2 has asked MOM to allow her to take up a temporary job, but to date — and it’s been a month since the incident — no decision from MOM is forthcoming. It is still unclear why the ministry’s response is so slow.