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Mission reports 44% jump in abuse cases vs MDWs

29 April 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao

Police responding to an alleged assault on a helper: many cases are not prosecuted

Some 70 cases of rape or indecent assault committed against migrant domestic workers were reported by victims to the police last year, but a number of these alleged offenses have been dismissed by investigators due to insufficient evidence.

This was learned today, Apr 29, from the Mission for Migrant Workers, a Church-based charitable organization that has been helping domestic workers fight for their rights.


The Mission said in its 2020 Service Report released recently that reports of violence against women or ill-treatment cases grew by an alarming 44 percent from the 2019 levels.

“Violence against women (has) intensified in the past year, with more violations concerning the vulnerability of migrant women to such deeds,” the report said.

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Included in this sphere are rape or sexual harassment cases, which rose to 6% of all reported cases last year, from a mere 2% in the previous year. The alleged offenses happened right in the homes of the FDWs’ employers.

Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, Mission’s general manager said last year’s recorded increase was derived from the 1,163 new clients who sought the Mission’s help with their cases.

Tellez urges MDWs to build up their cases so they're brought to court 

Mission officers say most of the cases are still being investigated by police, although a number have already been dropped, underlining the difficulty faced by those who are victimized inside private homes to build evidence to prove their claims.


“All of the rape and indecent assault cases last year had been reported to the police, but several of the early cases have been dismissed for insufficient evidence,” said Mission case officer Edwina Antonio.

Antonio, who is also the executive director of the Mission’s shelter, Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, said one of the cases that was not brought to court was an indecent assault complaint filed last year by an Indian domestic worker against her male employer.

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Another Mission officer, Esther Bangcawayan, said also among last year’s cases was a Filipina who had suffered frequent sexual assault/harassment from her male employer since 2018.

The worker reportedly complained of her male employer fondling her around the waist and buttocks, and of initiating sex chats, including asking her if she needed a lover.

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Bangcawayan said the worker was so scared and stressed out that she couldn’t sleep, and large pimples formed on her face. She finally terminated her contract in the last quarter of that year, claiming on top of the sexual assaults, that she was given little food to eat, and was overworked.

When the worker approached the Mission for help, she was immediately told to report to the police, Bangcawayan said. The victim was also referred to the Consulate so she could be housed in its shelter.

The disturbing rise in the number of rape and indecent assault cases underscored the vulnerability of the migrant women to such type of abuse due to the “live-in” policy of the Hong Kong government for migrant domestic workers.

The Mission, along with workers groups, human rights lawyers and sympathetic legislators, have urged the government over the years to allow domestic workers to stay out because the live-in arrangement makes them prone to abuse and exploitation.

But the Immigration Department has steadfastly stood by the policy, saying that allowing the helpers to stay out would encourage them to take on illegal part-time jobs.

In its annual report, the Mission said 11,285 workers sought its assistance for case support, rights-based information and other critical services.

Labor cases made up the biggest chunk, or 77% of incidence reports the Mission has collated; followed by police cases, 8%; immigration cases, 6%; employment agency-related complaints, 5%; personal loan, 3%, and others, 1%.

“Labor-related problems remain the top cases we handled last year, an increase of 9% (from the number in) 2018,” the MFMW service report said. 

Complaints of overcharging by employment agencies also grew last year, with the majority of workers who had issues with their agencies saying they were charged excessive and illegal fees.


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