On Wednesday (25 May), Bai Yihong, aged 34, was sentenced to eight months and six weeks in jail after pleading guilty to two charges of voluntarily causing hurt and one charge of attempt to obstruct the course of justice.
Another four similar charges were taken into account before the final sentencing.
The Living Arrangements
The victim, a Myanmar national, was hired by Mr Chua Bee Seng, when Bai was pregnant on 17 November 2017.
Her job scope included cleaning, cooking, and caring for the infant.
At the time of the offences, Bai was living in a second-floor flat that belonged to her husband with her mother, Hai Yulan. Bai was unemployed then, though she previously worked as a Chinese language tutor.
Meanwhile, Bai’s husband typically stayed with his parents and sister in a flat on the fourth floor of the same block.
Unfortunately, Mr Chua passed away last year, and their son, now two years of age, is under the care of Bai and her mother.
Incidents of Abuse
When it comes to hiring foreign domestic workers, there are naturally some hurdles to overcome at first, like language barriers and having to understand the layout of the house and their employers’ preferences.
It usually ends in one of three ways: finding a middle ground language like English, teaching the maid simple phrases and words to sufficiently understand one’s instructions, or fall back on the universally understood body language and gesturing.
When the victim was hired, she didn’t understand Mandarin at all.
On the first day of her employment, 18 Nov 2018, Bai asked the maid to get a pear from the fridge, but the victim didn’t understand which fruit Bai was referring to as she was talking in Mandarin.
It resulted in the first instance of abuse but not the worst nor last: Bai proceeded to jab the victim’s forehead and punch her shoulders a few times, causing pain.
In December 2019, the maid used normal detergent instead of baby detergent to wash the infant’s blanket.
Bai then dragged the victim to the closet, breaking her bra strap in the process. She smacked the victim’s shoulders numerous times, jabbed her forehead and asked “whether she had a brain” in Mandarin.
Between May and June 2020, Bai got angry because she thought that the domestic worker was hand washing her own clothes but washing the family’s clothes with the washing machine.
What’s wrong with this?
She grabbed the maid’s shirt and pummelled her shoulders several times.
The victim told Bai she didn’t want to work for her anymore, and Bai responded by telling her to pack her bags.
Despite saying that, Bai later shoved the victim into the storeroom, causing her to collide with the wall, which resulted in a bump on her head.
In October 2020, Bai caught sight of the victim dropping a water container on the floor.
She questioned the maid, who denied dropping the container as she was feeling scared.
Bai poked the victim in the chest, temple and cheek, before slapping her face.
In the court documents, Bai told the victim that the floor was “filled with pesticide”, which her son might accidentally consume if the container made contact with the floor.
That makes absolutely no sense, but okay.
It’s unclear if there were other incidents of abuse apart from those that were already mentioned.
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The Final Straw
Prior to the final assault, the victim had come down with a stomach ache.
Thus, she was told to stay in the fourth-floor flat, in fear that she might pass on the illness to her son.
Bai expected the victim to return the next day on 6 November 2020.
However, the maid told Mr Chua that didn’t want to work for his family and reported that Bai had been violent towards her before.
That morning, Bai went upstairs to bring the victim back. The maid was seated on the floor of the living room when she arrived.
Mr Chua, his parents, her mother Hai, and their infant son were all present.
The close-circuit television cameras partially captured the escalation of the assault, which started when Bai aggressively asked the victim to return to the second-floor flat.
The victim refused, repeating that she didn’t want to work for her anymore.
Bai raised her voice to scold the victim. She accused her of theft and threatened to inform her agent so she would be sent back to her home country.
The victim broke down into tears, refusing to leave the flat as she requested for her agent to come fetch her.
By this point, Bai was pulling the victim out of the flat by the arm. The victim resisted, to which Hai joined her daughter in dragging the maid out of the house.
When the victim continued to resist and started defending herself, Bai kicked her in the stomach, hit her shoulder, and kicked her in the head at least 11 times.
The kicks caused the victim’s back to slam into the wheelchair that was behind her. Bai did not stop her attacks as the victim lied on the floor, wailing in pain.
Mr Chua’s mother eventually managed to restrain her, while Mr Chua shouted at his wife, telling her to stop.
The victim remained on the ground, sobbing and writhing in pain for some time. The blood from her lips was bleeding onto her shirt, and Bai brought a bowl of water to the victim so she could clean her face.
Afterwards, she sat down next to the victim and stated, “I ask you to calm down and then we will talk, if this thing blows up, you cannot go back to Myanmar, what will happen to your children, think about your children.”
Wow, victim-shaming, threatening, and showing double standards, all at the same time?
Bai kept trying to calm the victim, saying that she wouldn’t receive anything if she continued screaming and shouting, as she won’t get the money and won’t be able to see her family.
Add threatening her life and livelihood to the list of sins too.
Bai did all this because she knew it was possible that the victim would lodge a police report against her.
The Obstruction of Justice
After this sustained assault, Bai told her husband to delete the CCTV footage because she knew it contained evidence of her kicking and hitting the victim.
Mr Chua pretended to carry out Bai’s request, but later handed over the relevant footage to the police.
When the domestic worker’s agent arrived later that morning, Bai made up a story, stating that her injuries came about because the victim hit her first and then fell down.
The agent extricated the victim from the flat, who made a police report the same day.
A clinical examination showed that she had suffered a lip laceration, facial contusion (bruising), wounds on her left arm, and muscle strain in her back.
She is left with psychological trauma after the incident, now feeling fearful of loud noises when the incident comes to mind. She bears a permanent scar over her lip and perceives herself to be discovered.
The victim went unemployed for a full month after the incident, and had to fork out two months of her salary for her agent fees to secure a new employment contract.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Claire Poh sought for the imposed sentence of eight months and six weeks in jail, arguing that the abuse worsened as it continued over the course of the employment.
By the time the final assault occurred, Ms Poh claimed that “the victim was already destabilised and especially vulnerable due to the previous incidents”.
The prosecution also tacked on the fact that Bai was undergoing a major depressive episode at the time of the offence, and there was a correlation as she was in an “irritable mood”.
Although the prosecutor conceded that Bai was coping with a mental illness, she stated that Bai’s judgement was not severely impacted by it, citing the Institute of Mental Health’s report as evidence.
On the other end, defence lawyer Kevin Liew argued that Bai was at war with herself, and that her actions were “not a case of pure malevolence”.
He attempted to pursue a lighter sentence of five months and four weeks in jail, highlighting that Bai had a toddler to care for, and was his only remaining immediate family member.
He added that Bai has displayed genuine remorse by refusing bail and admitting to her guilt. She has also given $5,580 as restitution to the victim for the loss of income and pain suffered.
While giving the final verdict, District Judge Kamala Ponnampalam emphasised on the fact that Bai carried out a sustained assault on the foreign domestic worker who was “essentially a helpless victim” in front of the entire family.
The victim neither had the numbers, strength, nor financial capability to fend for her herself.
Certainly, the physical wounds weren’t severe, but the victim suffered significant psychological damage.
On Dec 2021, Hai was fined $3,000 for helping her daughter drag the victim out of the house.
Bai could have faced an enhance penalty of twice the maximum punishment for assaulting the foreign domestic worker while she was a member of the employee’s household.
For attempting to obstruct justice, Bai could have been jailed up to seven years, fined, or both.
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