Ex-U.S. diplomat must pay $3M to Ethiopian woman kept as sex slave

By Ray Downs  |  Aug. 1, 2017 at 9:23 PM
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Aug. 1 (UPI) -- A jury in federal court found Linda Howard, a former U.S. diplomat, liable for damages after she and her husband kept an Ethiopian woman as a sex slave for years in Yemen.

Howard will have to pay $3 million in damages to the woman, who was identified as "Sarah Roe" in court documents. The jury's decision in June marked the second time Linda Howard and her now-deceased husband, Russell Howard, were found liable for enslaving and raping an Ethiopian woman.

The case began in 2003 when Roe, then 17, got a job with a food services contractor serving the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. Two years later, she met Linda Howard, then working as a foreign service officer with the State Department's Information Program Center. Linda Howard offered Roe a job as a live-in housekeeper, which she accepted.

Soon after, however, Roe was forced to commit sexual acts on both Linda and Russell Howard, according to the lawsuit.

"[Russell Howard] grabbed [Roe's] breasts and bottom and demanded that she no longer wear a bra in the home. Linda Howard likewise touched Ms. Roe's breasts and demanded that she engage in sexual activities with the couple," the complaint states. "Ms. Roe begged the Howards to stop and refused their advances, but they ignored her. Russell Howard said, 'Don't worry, you will get used to it,' and followed Ms. Roe around the house. This happened constantly. Ms. Roe was terrified."

The complaint goes to say that on one day, Russell Howard "came into Ms. Roe's room after lunch completely naked. Ms. Roe was shocked and ran to a comer. Russell Howard violently forced himself on her, tearing off her clothes and raping her. Ms. Roe could not defend herself as Russell Howard overpowered her attempts to resist. After this rape, Ms. Roe was in shock. She did not know what to do. Ms. Roe felt like a slave."

The complaint says that a "pattern" developed where Russell Howard would come into Roe's room at 9 a.m. each morning to rape her. He'd then rape her again at 3 p.m. Roe also said that the Howards forced her to get an IUD device and threatened her with prison if she told anybody about the sex abuse.

Roe also feared the social repercussions if her family found out she had sex with a woman, even though it wasn't consensual.

"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."

The sexual enslavement lasted seven months before Russell Howard tired of Roe resisting being raped, according to court documents. Linda Howard then found her a job in a U.S. Embassy restaurant and hired another Ethiopian housekeeper, who the Howards brought with them when they moved to Japan for another State Department assignment. "Jane Doe," as she's referred to in court documents, made allegations similar to those made by Roe. That case was finalized in 2012 and Linda Howard was found liable for the sexual enslavement charges and ordered to pay $3.3 million.

"The crime, involving sexual assaults, forced labor and trafficking is particularly depraved," U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady wrote at the time.

After the judgment, Linda Howard quit her State Department job and fled to Australia, where she contested the ruling. She lost the appeal and was ordered to pay.

In 2015, an Inspector General report criticized the State Department for not being "well-positioned to hold employees accountable for violations" of anti-human trafficking policies the U.S. promotes in other countries.

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