In an apparent sign of sign of "the complex and high-stakes nature of the inquiry" into whether Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz sex-trafficked a minor, the Department of Justice has added two high-level prosecutors from Washington to the case.
The Washington-based prosecutors recently joined a team of authorities in Florida who've been looking into whether Gaetz violated federal law by providing goods or payments to a 17-year-old girl in exchange for sex, the New York Times reported Thursday.
Gaetz has not yet been charged and has denied wrongdoing. His alleged "wingman," former tax collector Joel Greenberg, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking the same 17-year-old girl, and is cooperating with the DOJ's investigation.
According to the Times, the Washington prosecutors' expertise includes "dealing with children who have been exploited but may not see themselves as having been victimized, which can complicate trials if they are called as witnesses."
Amanda Kramer, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who supervised sex trafficking cases for a decade, told the Times that legally, the victim's state of mind is not a factor juries should consider when determining whether laws were violated.
"Technically, the government needs only to prove that the child was underage when the sexual activity occurred and that the child received something of value in exchange for it," the Times reports. "But, Ms. Kramer said, the defense could try to use such witness testimony to confuse the jury or sour the legitimacy of the prosecution, although many judges would most likely shut down such a line of questioning."
Kramer told the NYT: "It's not uncommon for teens who have been trafficked to view themselves as willing participants and not as victims, often as a result of psychological manipulation by their traffickers. That's one of many dynamics that make sex trafficking cases challenging for prosecutors, but it's far from fatal to the case."