The woman seen in a shared video being abused by her employer, a retired police officer, says she endured physical abuse and serious threats many times before recording the incident.
Following a complaint to police filed by an advocate for domestic workers, a 68-year-old Greek Cypriot man was arrested this week after a video showed him abusing and tormenting a foreign woman in his employ.
The suspect, a retired police officer living in Nicosia, is accused of aggravated assault, use of threats, and verbal abuse against 31-year-old Filipina known as Arlene, who was seen and heard in a secretly-recorded video crying while being assaulted.
Speaking in a television interview on Thursday, Arlene gave details over the abuse she says she had to endure for three and a half years in Cyprus in the hands of her employer.
“He would slap me all the time, pull my hair, hitting me in the chin… [crying] it hurt… and he was shouting at me too,” she told a local network.
But Arlene said the abuse did not stop there, adding that her employer also threatened her. “Stop treating me like this. I didn’t do anything bad to you. If you don’t stop, I will go to the police,” she told him.
“If you go to the police, I will tell them you stole money, I will make you pay dearly if you dare cause trouble for me,” he replied, according to the woman.
She says her boss would often call her “useless” and a “whore” among others, while he also used racial slurs. “A slave, a slave, this is what he used to say about me,” Arlene said.
But the case would not be seeing the light of day had it not been for the video, says Louis Koutroukides, president of Housemaids Association of Cyprus.
Koutroukides, who played a role in uncovering police mistakes during last year’s serial killer case, said Arlene visited his Limassol office back in May to express complaints against her employer and seek help.
No complaint was filed with police at the time with Koutroukides saying the housemaid was concerned that she had no evidence and it would have been her word against her boss, a retired police officer.
“Her boss called me up and threatened me that he would report me to authorities,” Koutroukides said, who responded saying that his association was registered with the state and he was simply providing assistance to people who needed help.
Koutroukides said he then got a phone call from Lakatamia police, Nicosia district, with police officers asking about Arlene. He also said he could not remember if a patrol car was sent to his office in this case just before summer, besides the phone call, adding that officers would often would look for domestic workers who are reported gone from their place of work.
The Limassol activist said Arlene’s boss had convinced her three days later to go back, saying the employer promised her that he would change his ways.
“I told her you’re crazy. Why do you want to go back if you’re miserable there?” Koutroukides said, adding that she asked him to help her go back.
But Arlene says at one point she had enough and thought of her child back home.
“I didn’t want to go back to my country dead in a coffin”
“I couldn’t take it anymore. I was thinking about my baby. I didn’t want to go back to my country dead in a coffin,” she said, adding that she came to Cyprus to work and support her family and wasn’t ready to pack up and leave.
On Tuesday, Arlene secretly recorded the video in question and sent it immediately to Koutroukides, who then notified Limassol police.
“I watched the clip immediately and with tears in my eyes I called the police and also dialed the 1460 hotline. I also uploaded the video on Facebook,” he said, adding that he wanted to “create a fuss over this.”
According to Koutroukides, there were many similar situations involving female domestic workers from other countries who complain about their work conditions in Cyprus.
Domestic workers need more information
Koutroukides said there should be printed information handed to all foreign workers upon landing at the airport, so that they can get informed about where they can go to seek help or file a complaint.
“We asked Immigration if we could provide a handbook to these foreign workers at the airport, informing them about associations and where to go if they need help,” Koutroukides said.
“But they come, and just like a flock of sheep, they take them straight to their employers with absolutely no information on where to go if they need assistance,” he added.
Koutroukides contacted Immigration officials two years ago about creating a handbook in all foreign languages that his association could provide at the airport, but he said they turned him down.
“They shouldn’t have to live in fear. They are human beings just like us, and they’re poor,” he said.
The Limassol activist said there are independent agencies providing help, but the foreign workers don’t know where to go.
“This lady came to me because I am well known,” Koutroukides said, adding that associations also have a role to play in resolving situations, “not just Immigration authorities.”
Koutroukides said Arlene told him later that when police arrived at her place of work/residence, she was worried that her boss had sent them to arrest her.
The suspect, who was arrested on Wednesday, was arraigned on Thursday before a Nicosia district judge. A case has been filed and he has pleaded not guilty. He was then released on bail set at €5000, after police prosecutors said they would not seek a remand order.
No restraining order was issued in the case but additional reports said the alleged victim was in a safe location. According to reports, the suspect is exercising his right to remain silent.
Lakatamia police investigated the case. The hearing is set to begin on September 28.