A former U.S. diplomat has for the second time been found liable for enslaving and sexually trafficking a housekeeper while posted at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.
A jury in federal court in Alexandria, Va., agreed Monday 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 $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 $3.3 million. However, the couple had already fled from Arlington, Va., 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 new allegations and argued that Roe could not sue for civil damages under a human trafficking law that did not pass until 2008.
According to court filings, Roe began working for the Howards in Sanaa, Yemen, in 2007, when Linda Howard was a Foreign Service officer in the U.S. Embassy’s Information Program Center. Roe was promised a monthly salary of $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.
Roe claims that she was told to wear a skimpy uniform that Linda Howard sewed herself but refused. Russell Howard took her to a mall and bought lingerie, a thong and two miniskirts, which she said she also refused to wear once she realized that was his intention.
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.
The couple would show her explicit photographs of previous housekeepers, she said, shouting, “She did it, why can’t you?”
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. According to Roe, the couple had gotten the husband of another former housekeeper put in prison.
“I cried all the time,” Roe wrote in an affidavit.
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.
“It is . . . shameful and illegal to have any homosexual contact in my country,” she wrote in an affidavit to the court. “It does not matter that I was an unwilling victim of Linda Howard’s sexual advances; they would be viewed just the same by my family and friends and by the authorities.”
After about seven months, she says Russell Howard became enraged by her continued resistance to his sexual assaults and threw her out of the house. She said she found a place to stay through an acquaintance at the embassy. Three or four days later, she said Linda Howard helped her find a job at a restaurant in the compound. Roe believes she did so to keep her silent.
Roe’s allegations closely track those of the Jane Doe, who won a civil suit against the Howards in 2012. Doe traveled with the couple from Yemen to Linda Howard’s next posting in Tokyo. She also alleged that Russell Howard repeatedly raped her, that Linda Howard told her to keep him happy, and that she was isolated and threatened. After she fled in the middle of the night for home, Russell Howard followed her and had charges filed against her in Ethiopia, she alleged.
“The crime, involving sexual assaults, forced labor, and trafficking is particularly depraved,” U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady wrote at the time.
Attorneys for Howard and Roe did not immediately return requests for comment.