A former US diplomat has for the second time been found liable for enslaving and sexually trafficking a housekeeper while posted at the US Embassy in Yemen.
A jury in the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, agreed that the former envoy, Linda Howard, and her Australian husband, Russell Howard, forced an Ethiopian maid into sexual slavery in 2007, repeatedly raping her. Linda Howard was ordered to pay US$3 million in damages to the now 30-year-old woman, identified only as Sarah Roe, who lives in Virginia.
Five years ago, the couple were found liable in the same court for trafficking another Ethiopian housekeeper in 2008. They were ordered to pay her US$3.3 million. However, the couple had already fled from Arlington, Virginia, to Australia and contested the judgment there. The case was settled in 2015.
Linda Howard left the State Department in 2013; her husband died in 2012. She denied the fresh allegations and argued that Roe could not sue for civil damages under a human trafficking law that did not pass until 2008.
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According to court filings, Roe began working for the Howards in Sana'a, Yemen, in 2007, when Linda Howard was a Foreign Service officer in the US Embassy's Information Programme Centre. Roe was promised a monthly salary of US$150 as well as visa help, medical treatment, support for her daughter, and the opportunity to follow the family to Linda Howard's next posting in Germany.
She alleged that she was told she must move in with the family, selling the possessions she had acquired in Yemen, and keep Russell Howard happy while his wife was at work.
From early on, Roe alleged, both husband and wife would grope her and demand that she have sex with them. Soon, she said, Russell Howard was raping her twice a day, telling her it was part of her job. When she protested, she said, he would hit her and throw things at her and threaten to put her in jail. Linda Howard, in Roe's account, sometimes joined in. She alleged that Russell Howard dragged her to the hospital so she could be fitted with an IUD against her will.
Roe was closely monitored and seldom allowed to leave the house alone. She was also forced to work 85 to 90 hours a week, according to her complaint. The Howards took her passport, she said, and did not renew her visa as promised.
Along with the threat of retribution, Roe said she was afraid of the social and legal consequences in Ethiopia of being raped by a woman. After about seven months, she says Russell Howard threw her out of the house.