NEW YORK, Oct 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The torrent of stories of sexual harassment and assault in the wake of claims about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein could help propel campaigns to make sextortion illegal, according to activists trying to change laws in the United States.
Sextortion - a form of extortion that involves sexual acts or images as its currency - is not recognized by criminal laws in many U.S. states and victims often have little or no recourse, experts say.
The headlines, social media and watercooler conversations prompted by the Weinstein case are "incredibly powerful" in illustrating the extent of the problem, said Jennifer Becker, senior staff attorney with Legal Momentum, The Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, that works to combat sextortion.
Using hashtag #MeToo, tens of thousands of women have gone to Twitter and Facebook to recount experiences of being verbally abused, groped, molested and raped by bosses, teachers and family.
"It's an abuse of power, and so with Harvey Weinstein as an example, it's a classic age-old case of sextortion," Becker told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
A huge hurdle in making sextortion illegal is getting the public and lawmakers to understand its scope, she said.
"It really had never been center stage," she said. "The more instances, the more narratives out there, it certainly helps lawmakers understand that it's something that they should prioritize."