HK school teacher on trial for alleged assaults on Filipina helper

A Filipina domestic worker recounted in court today, Oct 11, how a secondary school teacher who hired her last year, allegedly assaulted her on several occasions, forbade her to take a rest day and once forced her to eat congee laced with dishwashing detergent.

Eden Pales, 37, gave evidence on the first day of her employer’s trial in West Kowloon Court on six charges: one for common assault, three for assault occasioning bodily harm, one for administering a noxious substance, and one for criminal intimidation.

The employer, Mak Pui-shan, 35, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

In the first charge, Mak is accused of committing common assault by banging Pales’ head on the wall and pulling her hair on an unknown day between October and November last year in their house on the 13th floor of Tower B in Serenade Court, Tsuen Wan.

In the second charge, Mak is alleged to have forced Pales to eat congee mixed with washing detergent sometime in February this year, also in their Tsuen Wan flat.

The third to fifth charges are all for assault occasioning bodily harm.

Pales, a first-time domestic helper, said she arrived in Hong Kong on Mar 9, 2020 and moved in with Mak, her husband and their two sons, aged 5 years and 5 months, after spending 20 days in quarantine.

Pales said the first time the defendant attacked her was between October and November last year when she forgot the employer’s instruction to clean the baby’s toys.

She said she was in the kitchen to prepare food when Mak, raging with anger, followed and allegedly grabbed her hair and banged her head against the wall.

“My head was very painful and, when I touched it, there was a big bump. After that, Madam went to the living room,” Pales told Magistrate Li Cheuk-wai.

The next assault allegedly happened in mid-February this year, when the baby started crying inconsolably as she tried to let him finish his bowl of porridge.

Angered by her son’s crying, Mak allegedly grabbed the bowl of unfinished congee and tossed it on the countertop. Then she allegedly pumped dishwashing detergent onto the bowl with the congee, and ordered the helper to eat it.

“I was crying at the time because I was scared that I would be poisoned. But she was very, very angry as she forced me to eat it because if I did not, she would hit me again,” Pales said.

She said she ate the detergent-laced congee out of fear that Mak would hit her again and that she might lose her job. As she ate the porridge, the defendant stood watch to make sure the helper consumed the congee.

Pales said she had to drink three cups of tap water afterwards so she wouldn’t be poisoned.

Sometime between Feb 24 and 28, Mak allegedly attacked the helper again without any reason while she was fixing the couple’s bed.

Pales said she was standing beside the bed when an angry Mak came in and slipped her right arm into the collar of the helper’s shirt and clawed her back from near the waist upwards.

The helper said she cried out in pain and begged the defendant to stop, but the employer just kept clawing her back.

After Mak walked away, Pales said she went to the bathroom and saw that her back was bleeding. She took off her shirt and counted about 10 fingernail marks.

The worst of the alleged attacks came on May 25, at around 6:30pm, triggered by another tantrum of the baby because he did not want to finish his congee, Pales said.

Mak reportedly barged into the kitchen as Pales was putting the bowl of congee on the sink, then attacked the helper.

“She was very angry and told me that I don’t know how to take care of a baby and slapped me in the face several times. The she took the turner (spatula) for frying and used it to beat my tummy and my right thigh,” Pales said.

She said she tried to move due to the pain, but Mak allegedly held her left thigh while continuing to beat her other thigh with the spatula.

Pales said she ended up squatting and leaning against a cabinet due to the pain, but Mak then kicked her about five times on her two legs just below the knee.

After the alleged assault, the employer went back to the living room, while Pales said she went to the bathroom to examine her bruises. She said she saw her cheeks swollen while her belly and thighs had several bruises.

In addition to the physical assaults, Mak reportedly forbade the helper from taking a day off since she started serving the household on Mar 29, citing the pandemic as excuse.

Pales said that while under Mark’s employ, she had to wake up at 5:30am and work until midnight. That was the only time she could hold her phone.

Pales will continue giving evidence tomorrow.

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