Report identifies key forms of emotional abuse towards maids

Three prominent forms of emotional abuse towards domestic workers, including threatening or controlling behaviour, were identified in a research report released by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) yesterday.

Advocating a rights-based approach to stemming and preventing such abuse, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) recommended measures it believes would reduce the prevalence of emotional abuse, such as training employers on interpersonal skills and allowing domestic workers to live out.

Ms Jaya Anil Kumar, senior research and advocacy manager at Home, said at a press conference yesterday that the NGO wanted to showcase the prevalence of emotional abuse, because domestic worker abuse is often talked of only in terms of physical abuse or that of their rights as workers.

"We wanted to highlight that emotional abuse is also something to be taken seriously because of the very harmful effects that it has on domestic workers," Ms Kumar said.

Twenty-two domestic workers who lived at Home's shelter between July and September 2019 were interviewed for the report.

Home also collected the casework data of more than 1,800 domestic workers who had sought help from it between 2019 and last year. The report found that the three prominent forms of emotional abuse documented among domestic workers were terrorising behaviour, control, and degradation.

Split into two subcategories, terrorising behaviour includes threats and intimidation, as well as insults.

One domestic worker recounted to Home that her employer told her: "I can do anything to you because you are the maid.

"I can pay the money. I can do anything to you."

Her employer also threatened to send her to jail on more than one occasion if she reported the threats.

Details on when the abuse occurred were not released.

In a separate case detailing control as a form of emotional abuse, a domestic worker was not given any days off and not allowed to make friends or talk to anyone outside the household.

Her employer also installed closed-circuit television at the door of her room and forbade her to close it.

Another domestic worker told Home that she was made to massage her employer's feet every night while the latter sat on the toilet bowl.

Categorising the incident as degradation, Home said in its report that such tasks were unnecessary and were demanded by the employer to exert control over the domestic worker.

Home offered 13 recommendations that would better protect domestic workers and tackle the systemic and structural issues which may perpetuate emotional abuse.

Among them was that the employer orientation programme, a three-hour training programme that the Ministry of Manpower requires of first-time employers, should include training on the types of behaviour that are emotionally abusive and may adversely affect the domestic workers' mental health and safety.

Home added that employment agencies should better support domestic workers and not dismiss those who approach them when they experience emotional abuse.

Other recommendations include increasing the frequency of mandatory rest days for domestic workers and providing them guaranteed access to their mobile phones.

Home also recommended in its report that live-out options should be provided to domestic workers as it decreases the chances of surveillance and gives them privacy.

Currently, all domestic workers have to live with their employers.

The organisation added that the Employment Act (EA) should be extended to domestic workers, who are currently not covered by the Act.

"Extending the EA to domestic workers and properly enforcing the protections contained therein will ensure they have adequate access to redress for the violation of their rights, making them less prone to other forms of abuse, such as emotional abuse," Home said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2022, with the headline Report identifies key forms of emotional abuse towards maids. Subscribe