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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Woman Claims She Was Enslaved in Virginia

WASHINGTON (CN) - A political commentator and the owners of a Georgetown restaurant lured an Indonesian woman to the United States with promises of work, then held her in slave-like conditions without pay for more than a year, she claims in court.

The 37-year-old woman, Maysaroh, sued the American Arab Communications & Translations Center aka the Zenobia Lounge, its owners Charif Khanji and Ahmad Atassi, and political commentator Farah Atassi, in Federal Court. She alleges human trafficking, slavery, failure to pay wages and forced imprisonment.

Maysaroh's story began in 2010, when a labor recruiter named Nura Ziadeh promised her $1,000 a month to work as a maid in the United States for someone known as General Muhammed Al-Karsi, she says in the 33-page lawsuit.

Maysaroh says she took out loans and sold off family assets to travel to Jakarta to secure the job.

Upon arrival at Dulles Airport, she says, defendant Farah Atassi seized her passport and took her to Vienna, Va., where she was confined until January of 2012.

"Over the next few weeks, Maysaroh realized that she would not be working for the household of General Muhammed Al-Karsi as she had been promised, but for the defendants' household. Thus, Maysaroh was surprised by the identity of her employer and the extent of her duties. From June 2011 until January 2012, defendants forced Maysaroh to work for defendants Zenobia Lounge, Farah Atassi, Chaif Khanji, Ahmad Atassi, and their extended family," the complaint states.

Maysaroh says she was confined to the Atassi house, forced to cook, clean and care for Atassi's children and her parents. She was allowed to leave only for short stints, usually just to retrieve the family's mail with a family member watching her through a window. And she claims she had to work long, unpaid hours at Atassi's restaurant.

"Having effectively isolated Maysaroh and imprisoned her in their home, defendants forced Maysaroh to perform numerous household tasks for their family," the complaint states. "These tasks included preparing food and performing other tasks for and at their business Zenobia Lounge. Seven days a week, from approximately 7:00 a.m., to 12:00 a.m., defendants forced Maysaroh to perform household tasks including cleaning their three-story, 6-bedroom and 5-bathroom home. In addition to cleaning bedrooms and bathrooms, Maysaroh was forced to clean the kitchen, in-house office and living spaces; sort, wash, iron, and fold clothing for the defendants and their extended family; prepare all the meals and snacks for the defendants and their extended family; wash dishes; feed and tend to the defendants pet rabbits and cat; vacuum and wipe down the interior of the defendants' cars; and, generally arrange and tidy the interior of the whole three-story house."

She claims she "was also forced to provide body massages to defendant Farah Atassi nearly every evening for an hour or more," a task she was excused from only when she "was menstruating and was too tired and too weak to provide a massage."

Maysaroh claims that on multiple occasions she was forced to spend hours preparing food for the Zenobia Lounge and cleaning the entire restaurant.

Adding to the nightmare, she says, Farah Atassi's father, referred to as "Grandfather Atassi" in the complaint, sexually assaulted her repeatedly and offered to pay her for sex.

"Grandfather Atassi frequently followed Maysaroh as she walked around the defendants' house and tried to hug and kiss her when he could corner her alone for a few minutes," the complaint states. "These actions made Maysaroh extremely uncomfortable. Grandfather Atassi taunted Maysaroh regarding her state of financial dependence, offering her money in exchange for her acquiescence to his sexual advances. Maysaroh refused all of his advances and money, but Grandfather Atassi persisted as long as she remained in the defendants' home."

She adds: "At times, Grandfather Atassi entered Maysaroh's bedroom at night, when everyone else was sleeping. He stroked her body, pressed down on her, and kissed her by force."

Maysaroh claims the old man told her that if she left their home she could be shot or raped, and bragged about the powerful people Farah Atassi knew.

Maysaroh says she was kept in a tiny storage room in the basement, with no windows or heat where she was forced to sleep on a twin mattress barely larger than the floor on which it sat.

She says she was frequently denied medical care, "suffered severe headaches, vomiting, and often cried herself to sleep at night."

She says she began asking the Atassis about her pay in order to satisfy her loans in Indonesia, but the couple wired just a fraction of the money promised to her by her employment contract to her family, telling her that "the employment contract was just a formality."

Maysaroh finally discovered how to deactivate the security system so she could open a door without an alarm sounding, and she escaped in early 2012.

She was taken in by a Malaysian family who helped her find legal counsel.

She seeks damages for forced labor, trafficking, human rights violations, slavery and failure to pay wages.

She is represented by Daniel Katz of Silver Spring, Md.

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