Sriatik’s body bears multiple scars of varying size. She has no idea what caused the long red line across her face or the large spots on her back. She only remembers something hot that her employer was holding. Sriatik is now pregnant with her first child, having married when she returned to Indonesia from abusive employment as a domestic worker in Taiwan. She says the skin graft on her left breast where she was burned with hot water will not cause any problem when she breastfeeds.
She went to Taiwan as a domestic worker a decade earlier, when she was 19. It was a better-life decision for a family with few options. There were days when her family had nothing to eat. All around her, young women went far away and returned to build houses and buy land for their family or to educate their children. She sought out Taiwan because the bad stories she had heard were of sexual abuse in Saudi Arabia. She travelled on false documents because Indonesia’s legal age to work abroad in domestic work was 20. Before leaving she was tutored in useful Mandarin phrases but given no information on what to do if something goes wrong and no contact details to call for help. She went twice and worked for the same family. The first time the male employer was gentle. In fact, he called her at home in Indonesia after her first contract had ended and asked her to come back. But he was different that second time. The family had moved into a bigger house; the male employer seemed more burdened. The man began striking Sriatik in fits of anger, with a broom, an iron pipe, a fork heated against the stovetop burner or he kicked her. When she denied stealing money from him, he poured boiling water on her and insisted she could not leave until the money was repaid. It took a while, but her family borrowed from relatives to send what amounted to more than a year’s salary, which she still insists she never took.
“At home, sometimes we had nothing to eat. My father was a farmer but we owned only a small plot for growing vegetables. He worked for others. I wanted to improve my economy, my family’s economy—my mother, father and a younger sister. I wanted to save for the future for my children. I heard bad stories about going abroad, but I didn’t care. There was nothing I could do to change things—improve things—by staying home.”
“What’s strange is that … for one and a half years, there was no problem. I went back to Indonesia and the male employer called and requested I come back. I went back in 2005. But he seemed different. They had moved to a bigger house. I still had to clean the shop and the house. I worked from 6 in the morning until after midnight. At midnight, I must wash the clothes. I may not sleep before everything was done. Although Taiwan labour rules allow a day off, I had to go with the family for shopping. I was paid NT$18 per month, which was about 4 million rupiah.
“He was angry all the time at me. Then one time he said, ‘You come here.’ I was confused. He took a hot fork that he had heated on the stove top and he put it on my hand. He pressed the hot fork onto my hand. The wife said, ‘Don’t say anything. If you say more, he will beat more.’ He also hit his wife. If she defended me, the husband would be angry with her. So the wife never protected me anymore. He would kick me when I was cleaning the floor by my hands. He was kicking me and the wife advised me to go to my room. It’s quite strange, like he had the devil inside.
“One time he was shouting in Mandarin. He asked me to the top of the stairs and he was going to push me down, but the wife told me to go out of the house to be safe. She was so worried for me. The door locked behind me but the wife opened it later on to let me back in.”
I had no idea what to do
“I was so scared. I had no idea what to do. The rule in Taiwan says if someone escapes from the job, they will be fined. It’s a great amount. If I had a hand phone, I could have run away. I would have called my friends. I had nowhere to run.
“But then I was suspected of stealing money—NT250, it’s about 50 million rupiah. I denied stealing the money so he poured boiling water on my body. He said I had to repay it so that I could go home to Indonesia. My family borrowed from other relatives to pay it, but it took them a while to learn how to send it. While waiting I was still abused.
“The last abuse was the scar on my face and back and right foot and under my arm. I don’t know what it was from but it was like a hot iron. It was an object. It was burning. I fainted that time and I don’t know what caused the scar on my face. What I remember, he was holding a hot spatula. At the time I was in the kitchen and he called me to a middle room where if someone screams, no one hears. After that it seemed he was afraid. My body was so full of pain. I asked him to let me go home. A month after he received the money from my family, he said I could leave. I was so happy. It was like getting out of the hell—how can a person be so evil?”