Time to Consider Rights-Based Protection for Victims of Abuse
This letter was submitted to the Straits Times’ forum page and an edited version was published on 24 July 2018.
I refer to the article ’Woman who beat maid jailed 25 months’ (ST, 18 July 2018).
Ei Phyu Tun was under the care of HOME and stayed for three years in our shelter. It has been a protracted and difficult process and we are glad that justice was finally meted out and she was compensated for her grievous suffering.
HOME continues to see survivors of physical abuse, who often find it difficult to file reports against their perpetrators because of shame and fear of retaliation. Many are concerned about jeopardizing their livelihoods and ‘creating trouble’ in a foreign country. It is a difficult choice for survivors of violence and abuse: to publicly relive the trauma and undertake the extended and unpredictable journey to remedial justice.
The Singapore Government requires migrant worker victims who are key witnesses to remain in the country. Passports are withheld by the police and victims are expected to stay in Singapore with no guarantee of financial support. They also do not have the choice to stay with their agencies or a shelter of their preference. While in some cases they are given permission to find work, this is not a guaranteed right.
The vulnerability of live-in migrant domestic workers to multiple forms of abuse is especially pronounced because of their high levels of dependency on employers and the hidden nature of their work and living arrangements. This is exacerbated by practices that further isolate them and control their movements: the denial of rest days, confiscation of mobile phones, intrusive surveillance, and withholding of identity papers and documents.
It is encouraging that the courts have signaled their recognition of domestic workers’ increased vulnerability through a more severe sentencing framework for abuse. It is time to also consider a more rights-based approach to victim protection. There needs to be assured access to decent employment opportunities, legal aid, counselling, rehabilitation services and medical treatment, which is currently decided on a case-by-case basis. In addition, victims’ identities should be better protected during investigation and proceedings, with the media exercising sensitivity regarding revealing their details and photographs.
Research has shown that a victim-centric approach is the most effective way of fighting abuse. Without legally guaranteed social support services and protection, it will be difficult to encourage migrant women workers to assist in investigations and bring perpetrators to justice.
Advocacy & Communications Manager,
Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics