Above image: Jeaneylyn Villavende
It hasn’t been easy reading the news recently. As an Asian-American living in the United States it’s been completely disheartening. Similarly, to other ethnic crimes that have been committed in the past, it’s nothing new.
Crimes in the Asian community largely have gone unspoken. You could blame this on the “model minority” ethos that has been so toxically engraved into our society. The sad reality of this stereotype has made vulnerable populations of the Asian community easy targets.
You will see them in hospitals as your nurse practitioner. In convalescent homes taking care of your elderly parents. Tending to children of wealthy families like their own. More often than not you will see a Filipino woman occupying these jobs.
The draw of opportunities and a better life overseas has always been a long-standing dream for most native Filipinos. According to The Guardian, there are nearly 19,000 people on domestic visas in the United Kingdom. Many more who are employed to the Gulf region as well, numbering up to 216,200 Filipino workers in just Kuwait alone. East Asia Forum states that 60% are domestic workers.
Unfortunately, the lands of opportunities don’t always hold the promise of a better life. Just last year, the case of Jeanelyn Villavende made headlines in the Philippines. The 26-year-old left for the Gulf nation of Kuwait in mid-2019 in pursuit of much needed income for her family and a more stable future.
Villavende landed a job as a household helper, earning a little over 20,000 Philippine Pesos (which is roughly $410.21 in US Dollars). In addition to the low earnings, overseas workers lack most basic freedoms. They typically reside and work in residential areas that are without public transportation and go days without any rest or time off. Often times this work arrangement establishes the framework for an abusive system towards the overseas worker.
It is estimated that about 90% of abuse allegations concern domestic workers.
On May 5, 2019, five months after her employment, Villavende was admitted into her hospital just before her death. According to the Times Kuwait:
“Her body showed indications of sexual abuse. The autopsy also found signs of physical abuse dating back weeks before her death. The injuries were sustained by the victim not at the time of her death suggesting that she was being maltreated weeks or months before her death. Even her ears and head showed old wounds, while bruises on her private parts indicated that she had been sexually abused.”
As of January 28, 2020, the employers of Villavende, a married couple, were formally charged with her murder. The wife, a Kuwati woman was sentenced to hanging while her husband was delivered a lighter sentence of four years for “not reporting the crime.”
Despite efforts of temporary bans of sending Filipino workers overseas, the allegations of abuse continue. With many individuals who are in financial straits within poorer communities in the Philippines are still willing to make the sacrifice for their loved ones.
For further reading on the subject:
News footage of Jeanelyn Villavende: