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Weinstein Scandal May Impact Sex Trafficking Laws

Descriptions of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's behavior have ranged from rape and serial sexual assault to sexual harassment and "workplace misconduct." Good Morning America called his behavior "gross," and the New York Attorney General opened a civil rights investigation into his former production company.

And now you can add sex trafficking to the list of descriptions. A British actress is suing Weinstein, claiming his assault on her in a French hotel room falls under the legal description of sex trafficking.

Sex Assault and Sex Trafficking

Kadian Noble claims Weinstein lured her to his room in Le Majestic Hotel in Cannes, France, promising her a movie role. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, Weinstein started massaging and then groping Noble before trapping her in the bathroom and forcing her to masturbate him.

While Weinstein, through attorneys, denies the allegations, Noble's own lawyer has used an innovative legal claim against the mogul and his company. The lawsuit alleges Weinstein violated federal anti-sex trafficking statutes that prohibit "force, threats of force, fraud, coercion ... or any combination of such means will be used to cause the person to engage in a commercial sex act."

Commercial Cherry-Picking

The suit clarifies that "commercial sex act" is defined as "any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person." Weinstein is accused of forcing Noble to engage in sex acts in return for a movie role. While this approach to the sex trafficking statute might be new, it just might work.

"The way that this complaint has been framed makes a sound allegation that the force, fraud or coercion for sex took place in exchange for value, which was the film role," Loyola Law School professor Kathleen Kim told Reuters.

Others were more skeptical. Former prosecutor with the Brooklyn District Attorney's office Paul Callan said the law was "intended to punish those who participate in human sex trafficking. What the lawyers here have done is they have cherry-picked phrases from that statute in an effort to prove that Harvey Weinstein's actions in allegedly sexually abusing the actress fits into that statute."

Whether that cherry-picking will have its desired effect, in this case and beyond, will be for the U.S. District Court in New York to decide.

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