This week, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that former film executive Harvey Weinstein can be sued under a federal sex-trafficking law by an actress who claims he coerced her to have sex in exchange for a movie role that never materialized.
The New York Times called it a "novel decision" in an unusual case that could "pave the way for future lawsuits." The sex-trafficking statute makes it a crime to entice someone to commit a “commercial sex act” in exchange for something of value.
Police have not charged Harvey Weinstein with sex trafficking. But the judge's ruling means that the civil suit, brought by British actress Kadian Noble, can proceed. Noble claims that in 2014, Weinstein lured her to his hotel room in Cannes, France, on the pretense that he would watch a reel of her work. Once in the room, Weinstein fondled her and masturbated in front of her, she says.
Judge Robert W. Sweet wrote that Weinstein “had recruited and enticed a young aspiring actress — with the promise of a film role and to use his considerable influence in the entertainment industry on her behalf, knowing that he would use means of force, fraud or coercion to cause her to engage in a sex act."
Weinstein's lawyers had asked for the suit to be thrown out. They argued that nothing of value was exchanged. The judge didn't buy that.
“For an aspiring actress, meeting a world-renowned film producer carries value, in and of itself,” the judge wrote. “The opportunity, moreover, for the actress to sit down with that producer in a private meeting to review her film reel and discuss a promised film role carries value that is career-making and life-changing. The contention, therefore, that Noble was given nothing of value — that the expectation of a film role, of a modeling meeting, of ‘his people’ being ‘in touch with her’ had no value — does not reflect modern reality.”
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Weinstein's lawyers said they would appeal the decision. "We believe these claims are not legally or factually supported, and ultimately will not be sustained,” said Weinstein attorney Phyllis Kupferstein in a statement on Tuesday.
Weinstein faces criminal charges in Manhattan, including two counts of sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on bail. More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment or sexual assault.