Members of the Indonesian community in Hong Kong have welcomed the life sentence given to former banker Rurik Jutting in the Hong Kong High Court on Tuesday.
The 31-year-old Briton was found guilty by a unanimous jury verdict of the murder two Indonesian women, Sumarti Ningsih, 23, and Seneng Mujiasih, 28, in brutal fashion at his luxury apartment in Hong Kong in 2014. Jutting failed in his bid to convince the jury that he should instead be found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter owing to “diminished responsibility” wrought by personality, drug-and-alcohol-abuse disorders.
Justice Michael Stuart-Moore said to Jutting: “You get prison for life. That is all. You can go now, thank you.”
“I think it is a just and appropriate punishment, and the case was carried through a legal process that was very objective,” Tri Tharyat, the Indonesian consul-general in Hong Kong, tells TIME. “Apart from that, maximum punishment is according to the hopes of the victims’ families.”
“I am relieved that they didn’t shift the responsibility to drugs,” says Devi Novianti, a longtime Hong Kong resident from Indonesia, who has been working with migrant workers in the city.
Sringatin, chairperson of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union in Hong Kong, also welcomes the decision from the court. “What Jutting did was far more cruel than I ever imagined,” Sringatin tells TIME. “Jutting made use of Sumarti’s and Seneng’s economic vulnerability.”
During the trial, Indonesian migrant workers demonstrated outside the High Court, calling for justice for Jutting’s victims.
Sumarti — a single mother with one son — and Seneng have been presented as sex workers in much of the coverage given to the trial. However, they both first arrived in Hong Kong as domestic workers and, like many of their peers, faced economic pressures — either owing money to employment agencies or loan sharks, or wishing to earn more money to support their families back home.
Some domestic workers take on extra, illegal jobs, from extra housekeeping to washing dishes in restaurants. In a comparatively few cases, like Sumarti and Seneng, they sell sex.
“We should be more understanding toward them,” Sringatin says. “Who wants to do a not-so-respectable job [like sex work]? The majority of women do it out of economic necessity, because they are the main breadwinners.”
Kendy Yim, executive director at Action for Reach Out, a nongovernmental organization that helps women working in the sex industry in Hong Kong, says such women “work as part-time domestic workers, part-time sex workers, so they are more cautious. They don’t want to be known that they have violated conditions of their stay in Hong Kong, and they may not see themselves as sex workers.”
There are about 150,000 Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong, the second biggest group following Filipinas. Last year, overseas workers, many of whom were women working as domestic helpers, sent $10.5 billion to Indonesia, up 22% from the previous year. Money sent from abroad is mostly used to pay for daily living expenses of their family and education of their children or younger siblings.
The money that Seneng sent from Hong Kong paid for her mother’s medical treatment for her diabetic mother and enabled her family to build a new home. What Sumarti earned in Hong Kong helped pay for her family’s daily needs and her son’s education.
Migrant activists in both Hong Kong and Indonesia have contacted the victims’ families and are trying to help them seek financial compensation at civil court for the deaths of their loved ones. Consul General Tri says the Indonesian government is ready to give assistance.