The initial sentence given to a Datin for abusing her maid caused an uproar in Malaysia, rocking the legal world and prompting an online petition for a stiffer punishment.
However, we should not be too quickly satisfied just because Rozita Mohd Ali was finally handed eight years in jail for abusing her domestic helper, Suyanti Sutrinso.
One of the many questions we should ask is, how on earth Rozita initially received the lighter sentence: a good behaviour bond coupled with the chance to repent. This is no deterrent.
Suyanti, who was only 19 at the time, was beaten within an inch of her life. What message does that send to others? What does that say about our judicial system?
We should also ask why the initial charge of attempted murder was commuted to one of “causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means”.
Why did Suyanti fail to seek compensation? We understand her need to move on after the abuse, but did her legal counsel fail her? Or was the public not made privy to any compensation demanded?
Would the higher courts have increased Rozita’s sentence without the public outrage and online petition?
When Rozita changed her plea and pleaded guilty, Sessions Court judge Mohammed Mokhzani Mokhtar handed down a RM20,000 good behaviour bond for a period of five years. The unbelievably light sentence caused fury among the people, especially after her lawyer said she had repented for her actions.
Rozita had pleaded guilty to causing grievous hurt to Suyanti using a variety of objects including a knife, a floor mop, an umbrella, an iron rod and a clothes hanger.
Talk is easy. Her repentance could never erase the physical and mental anguish suffered by Suyanti. We don’t even know if the beating was a one-off event or had continued over many months.
In any case, the assault may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Suyanti.
Someone I know who suffered from PTSD described it as debilitating. She said she feared being in the company of strangers, or even people in general. Those who suffer from PTSD withdraw from society. Sudden noises upset them. Certain objects or scenes may induce panic. They have difficulty eating and sleeping.
If Suyanti, constantly reminded of her ordeal, exhibits these symptoms in the future, she will have difficulty earning a living. How will she help her family if she cannot go out and work? She would suffer crippling financial losses, not just while recovering from her injuries but in the event of future PTSD attacks.
If Suyanti has suffered life-changing injuries, how will she cope? Who will pay her medical bills?
It was alleged that Suyanti was so traumatised by the beating and media attention that she was prepared to drop her police report.
Is there a systematic policy of not telling maids who have been victims of assault to seek financial compensation?
Suyanti must now live with the debilitating effects of the abuse on her physical and mental health. Any victim of bullying can tell you that the effects haunt them for many years.
If Rozita has no financial resources to compensate Suyanti, MPs should demand that a fund be set up so that victims can seek compensation from the state.
Is there a political will to do more to stop the abuse of domestic workers?
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.