ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A nanny hired by members of Saudi Arabian royalty living in the U.S., claims in court she was forced into slavery, subjected to psychological abuse and isolated from the outside world after her employers snatched her passport and refused to return it to her for nearly a year.
In a 17-page complaint filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, Simret Semere Tekle, a native Eritrean woman, alleges her imprisonment by the wealthy royal couple, defendants Mohammad bin Abdullah Al Saud and Nouf bin Nayef Abdul Aziz Al Saud, began in 2011, after she’d allegedly been subjected to equally harsh treatment by Nouf Al Saud’s mother, Princess Maha bint Mohammed bin Al Sudairi.
According to the complaint, Al Sudairi first hired Tekle in 2008. For three years, Tekle claims, she was subjected to a series of humiliating abuses. Forced to bow before the princess and kiss her hands, Al Sudairi would often hurl insults at Tekle and other members of her staff, the complaint says. Al Sudairi told her she was akin to “toilet shoes” and warned that she “should know [her] place.”
The alleged torment at Al Sudairi’s hands, Tekle explains, drove her to accept an offer from Nouf Al Saud, the princess’s daughter.
Tekle says Nouf Al Saud offered her $4,500 per month in exchange for being nanny to three children at the family’s home in Great Falls, Virginia. Though she spoke little English, Tekle says she agreed, eager to escape Al Sudairi.
But once on their way to the U.S., Nouf Al Saud began to show similar signs of abuse, the plaintiff claims. Upon arriving at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles Airport, Tekle says, the Al Sauds took her passport after she went through customs and refused to return it to her.
Tekle, who is represented by Nicholas Cooper Marritz at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church, Virginia, claims things only got worse when she arrived at the family’s home.
Instead of three children to care for, there were six, the complaint says. Tekle, who was instructed not to look at or talk to her employers when in their presence, started her days at sunrise and worked until 9 p.m. or later.
She was also on-call overnight, forced to live in the home and travel with the family wherever they went, she says and was forced to clean, carry luggage and tend to six or more people at all times.
“She was never alone,” the complaint says.
Tekle claims she was plagued by chronic back pain, and that despite her requests to be seen by a doctor, her pleas went ignored.
She also claims that instead of the $4,500 per month she was promised, she was given less than $500 a month in cash. When she objected, Tekle says, she was told “not to complain because her salary was more than she had been paid in Saudi Arabia.”
After seven months, working around the clock, Tekle says she amassed no more than $3,000 or $1.13 per hour for all of her efforts.
But the usurious wages were only one of many offenses, she claims.
“Defendants repeatedly abused, demeaned and humiliated Tekle … she was subjected to constant verbal abuse and called offensive names in Arabic including whore, colored, donkey and garbage,” the complaint says.
She claims she was prohibited from leaving the residence without an escort, forbidden from interacting with people outside of the home, and was told she’d be attacked by Americans if she ever ventured outside by herself.
Tekle claims the Al Sauds warned that she would be closely monitored at all times and showed her multiple surveillance cameras placed throughout their home, including one in her bedroom.
“[Feeling] anxious, afraid and uncomfortable, [Tekle] would dress and undress in her bathroom to avoid being seen by the camera in her bedroom,” the complaint states. “She felt that she could not escape.”
Tekle says during the seven months she worked in the Al Sauds’ home, she spoke to her mother in Eritrea only three times. She says after she told her mother of the alleged abuse she was being subjected to, her mother reached out to distant relatives living in Virginia who offered the young woman refuge.
Tekle says she escaped the situation by fleeing from her escort during a routine trip to a local shopping mall.
“Following her escape, [the plaintiff] remained terrified the [Al Sauds] would find her. She rarely left the house,” the complaint said.”[She] suffered nightmares and frequently woke up screaming.,”
Tekle alleges four counts of abuse and imprisonment against the royal family members, including human trafficking. She also has sued for breach of contract and has demanded a jury trial in Virginia.
Representatives of the defendants could not immediately be reached for comment.