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The court heard that the retired teacher pulled the domestic worker’s hair and slapped her face, shoulder and back after the latter refused to give her a hand massage. Photo: Winson Wong

Retired Hong Kong teacher given suspended jail sentence for assaulting domestic helper over hand massage dispute

  • Acting principal magistrate David Cheung jails Chow Ching-yee for four weeks, but opted to suspend term for 1½ years
  • Court heard Chow pulled Ruby Funa Caman’s hair and slapped her face, shoulder and back after domestic helper refused to give her hand massage
Brian Wong

A retired teacher in Hong Kong has received a suspended jail sentence for assaulting her domestic worker who refused to massage her hands.

Chow Ching-yee, 65, pleaded guilty earlier this month to a count of common assault against Ruby Funa Caman after telling police she had pulled the worker’s hair and slapped her at her residence.

Passing sentence at Sha Tin Court on Monday, acting principal magistrate David Cheung Chi-wai warned against delivering the wrong message to society that attacks on foreign helpers could be dealt with leniently.

The magistrate jailed Chow for four weeks but suspended the term for 1½ years after finding no evidence the defendant had previous records of physical abuse.

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The court heard that Caman, from the Philippines, began working for Chow and her husband at the couple’s flat in Villa Esplanada in Tsing Yi last December.

Chow, who worked as a teacher for more than 20 years, would sometimes scold the worker for not meeting her expectations, the court was told.

The offence stemmed from a dispute over “trivial matters” that took place during the morning of April 18, according to prosecutors’ case summary.

In the midst of an argument, Chow suddenly pulled Caman’s hair and slapped her face, shoulder and back for about half a minute. The former educator also tried to grab the helper’s smartphone after the latter filmed the assault.

Caman sustained a 2cm scratch mark on her right forearm and redness on her right shoulder.

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Chow acknowledged in a police interview she had assaulted the helper out of anger and discontent with her job performance. She was remanded in custody for two weeks after pleading guilty on October 4.

A background report revealed that Chow lost her temper that morning after Caman refused to give her a hand massage.

Defence counsel said in mitigation the offence was out of character, adding the employer was suffering from depression and was mentally drained from taking care of her ill husband.

But the magistrate dismissed that contention, pointing to Chow’s verbal abuse of the helper on various occasions.

“Foreign helpers are not slaves,” Cheung said. “As an employer, the defendant could have dismissed the helper to mark her dissatisfaction with her job performance, instead of resorting to violence.”

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However, the magistrate accepted the defendant could not properly control her emotion as she had stopped taking her medication and had not slept enough at the time of the offence.

He also noted Chow would have difficulty hiring a new worker given her conviction.

Common assault is punishable by up to one year behind bars.