I will continue to fight for better conditions for Hong Kong’s domestic helpers, vows Erwiana Sulistyaningsih after court victory
Tortured helper was awarded HK$809,430 in civil action against her former employer on Thursday
Tortured foreign domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih has vowed to continue fighting for those as vulnerable as she once was, a day after she prevailed over her abusive former employer in civil litigation.
Speaking to the Post on Friday, the helper said she had been inspired to be an “advocate for those who are abused”.
In 2015 a Hong Kong court convicted and jailed Law Wan-tung for causing her injuries, one of which was so severe it amounted to grievous bodily harm inflicted with deliberate intention.
On Thursday, Erwiana was awarded HK$809,430 by the District Court in a civil claim against Law over the assaults, which the judge described as “inhumane, degrading, abhorrent” and aimed specifically to yield subordination.
“The positive court judgment pushes me more to continue,” Erwiana said on Friday. “I have made it my vow to be an advocate of those who are abused.”
She called on the Hong Kong government to review its policies to better protect foreign domestic helpers in the city.
“I truly believe a lot more is needed and can be done to improve the status and conditions of my fellow migrant workers here,” she said.
Since her torment, Erwiana has been focusing on her recovery as well as a bachelor’s degree in management at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta – a four-hour drive from her village home in Ngawi. She was given a scholarship, for which she said she was thankful.
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But her nightmare has not faded away. Testifying earlier this month, almost four years after the abuse, she told the court: “I still feel the hatred against my previous employer [and wonder] why she was so violent to me at the time.”
She still experienced bouts of trembling and felt nervous when she was reminded of the past, she added.
Law’s assaults took place between May 2013 and January 2014, and caught international attention after the case came to light. She was put on trial later that year.
The horrific accounts during the criminal trial revealed that Erwiana had a vacuum cleaner tube inserted into her mouth, cutting her lips when it was twisted inside. On another occasion, during winter, she was stripped naked and splashed with cold water, with a fan pointed at her.
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Law was found guilty of 18 assault and labour-related charges on February 10, 2015 for hurting Erwiana and another helper, Tutik Lestari Ningsih, and was jailed for six years.
Judge Winnie Tsui Wan-wah, who presided over the civil case, which was lodged after the criminal trial concluded, revisited details of those assaults during her deliberation.
“The defendant’s acts were designed to ‘teach a lesson’ to the plaintiff that [Erwiana], as the domestic helper, was inferior and must do as ordered,” Tsui said. “They were meant to bring about humiliation, distress and loss of human dignity.”
But up until the civil case earlier this month, Law remained dismissive, arguing that the harm was self-inflicted by Erwiana.
The helper said she hoped her victory would encourage other helpers suffering abuse to speak out.
“Be courageous,” she said.