Former US diplomat owes enslaved, sexually abused housekeeper $3mn, judge rules
The now-30-year-old housekeeper, identified in court documents only as Sarah Roe, began working for Linda and Russell Howard in Yemen in 2007. Mrs. Howard was a foreign service officer in US Embassy’s Information Program Center.
Mrs. Howard proposed giving Roe a monthly salary of $150, as well as help renewing her visa, medical treatment and support for her daughter. The envoy also offered Roe the opportunity to join the family at her next State Department posting in Germany, reported the Washington Post, citing court documents.
In exchange, Roe said, she was informed she had to move in with the family, sell any possessions she had in Yemen and keep Mr. Howard happy while his wife was at work. She refused to wear a skimpy uniform that Mrs. Howard sewed, so Mr. Howard took her to the mall. There he bought her lingerie, a thong and two miniskirts, which she also refused to wear.
Roe was forced to work 85 to 90 hours a week, and seldom allowed to leave the house unaccompanied. The Howards took her passport and did not follow through on their promise to renew her visa, she said in court documents.
From early on in her employment, both Howards would grope her and demand that she have sex with them, Roe said. Then Mr. Howard began raping her twice a day, saying it was part of her job description. If she protested, he would become physically violent, she said, hitting her and throwing things at her. He also threatened to have her jailed, something Roe said he had already done to the husband of a former housekeeper.
Mrs. Howard would sometimes join in the rapes, Roe said.
Mr. Howard also took her to the hospital where he forced her to have an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted to prevent pregnancy, according to the court documents.
“I cried all the time,” Roe wrote in a court affidavit.
Roe was not only afraid of retribution from the Howards, but of the social and legal consequences she would face if she returned to her home country of Ethiopia.
“It is... shameful and illegal to have any homosexual contact in my country,” she wrote in an affidavit. “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.”
The Howards also used the actions of previous housekeepers against Roe, she said. They would show her explicit pictures of their former employees and shout at her: “She did it, why can’t you?”
After seven months, Mr. Howard became enraged by her continued resistance to his sexual advances, and threw Roe out of the house, she said. Roe found a place to stay through someone she knew at the US embassy. Days later, Mrs. Howard helped her find a job at a restaurant inside the diplomatic compound, which Roe said she believed was a way to keep her silent.
Roe was not the only housekeeper to go through similar events with the Howards. In 2012, a federal judge in Virginia found the couple liable for enslaving and raping another Ethiopian woman, and ordered them to pay her $3.3 million.
Mrs. Howard lured that woman, identified as Jane Doe, to move to Japan with her and her husband. After being offered $200 per month for cleaning a home in the US Embassy compound in Tokyo, the woman agreed to come along in December 2008. They also promised a raise – $300 a month with one day off every week. But instead, Doe was repeatedly raped, constantly monitored and forced to work more than 80 hours per week. The Howards also threatened to fire her and have her deported to Ethiopia if she didn’t submit to sexual requests, she said.
In March 2009, Doe escaped from the Howards’ Tokyo home and reported the abuse to the State Department, which removed Mrs. Howard from her overseas post and launched an investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, Mr. Howard flew to Ethiopia to question the woman’s husband about her whereabouts. He even asked the Ethiopian police to help him and tried to file false criminal charges against her.
In 2012, US District Judge Liam O’Grady found the couple guilty of human trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude, conspiracy, obstructing law enforcement and unjust enrichment, crimes he called “particularly depraved.”
However, the couple had fled from Virginia to Mr. Howard’s native Australia, where they contested the judgment. The case was settled in 2015, two years after Mrs. Howard left the State Department and three years after Mr. Howard died.