In March 2017, there was a high-profile case where a Singaporean couple was charged after they had been found guilty of abusing their maid. The victim was limited to two meals a day, consisting of instant noodles and bread resulting in her massive weight loss. The victim was also only allowed to shower once a week, with her employer, the wife, standing right in front of her in the bathroom.
The husband was sentenced to prison for three weeks and fined S$10,000 and his wife was imprisoned for three months.
Addressing The Problem
Maid abuse is something that has occurred in Singapore time and time again. One solution to deter this was set out in March 2018 when The Supreme Court laid out a new sentencing framework for perpetrators of maid abuse. This came after Chief Justice Sundresh Menon highlighted a need to review sentencing benchmarks for abuse cases to prevent repeat incidents.
The new framework requires an initial assessment of the level of abuse. Was it predominantly physical, or both physical and psychological?
|Physical Abuse – Court Considers:|
|Physical + Psychological Abuse – Court Identifies:|
The table above summarises this new framework but to go deeper into details, here’s what this means in crime law.
What Constitutes Maid Abuse?
There are two different types of abuse – physical and psychological.
Physical abuse entails the acts of beating, slapping, kicking or performing acts that may cause physical injury to the victim. Do take note that even a light slap that does not injure the victim is still considered physical abuse, simply due to the intent to cause physical pain to the victim.
Psychological abuse lies on the other end of the spectrum where the victim is exposed to behaviour that leads to psychological trauma. Some examples of this include bullying, gaslighting, withholding and even body shaming. In the case mentioned above where the victim was denied a daily shower and only limited to two meals a day, those acts fall under psychological abuse.
Assessing The Type of Abuse in Court
So how are these forms of maid abuse assessed in the Court?
Firstly, is the abuse predominantly physical or a combination of both?
If it’s predominantly physical, the next stage is to determine the degree of harm. Are there visible marks and scars? Was the victim hospitalised? Following that, the consideration of aggravating factors.
Aggravating factors are defined by the motivation of the act. Was it racially motivated? Was it an exploitation of the victim’s disability? Was there a weapon involved? An abuse of power, is also considered an aggravating factor.
Another consideration in criminal law is the mitigating factor. These are components that the criminal lawyer may argue for to justify the acts and possibly help in reducing the sentence. Some examples of mitigating factors include the mental state of the accused. Was the accused intoxicated? Was the accused experiencing a nervous breakdown? Was the act committed out of self-defense? If the accused is able to show remorse over the acts committed, it can be included as a mitigating factor.
To ensure a fair judgement, both aggravating and mitigating factors need to be carefully considered.
If the abuse is both physical and psychological, the court will identify the degree of harm in relation to each charge. For example, if the victim humiliated and degraded in front of others.
Once the Court has assessed all these factors, the next step is to determine the punishment.
For cases where there is less serious physical harm, or coupled with less serious psychological harm, the accused may be sentenced to three to six months in prison. However, if the case involves more serious psychological harm, the accused may be sentenced anywhere from six to 18 months in prison.
For cases where there is more serious physical harm, but with little or no psychological harm, the accused may be sentenced to six to 18 months in prison and if the acts involve both serious physical and psychological harm, the jail term may be anywhere between 20 to 30 months.
Our Criminal Lawyer, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu, has defended numerous clients over the years over a wide variety of offences. With vast experience in Singapore’s laws, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, or if you have been caught in a similar situation, feel free to contact us for a consultation.