Could ‘Virgins Wanted’ filmmaker be charged with sex trafficking after auctioning off Brazilian woman’s virginity?

Lia Grainger

Peddling someone else's virginity can land you in some pretty hot water.

Australian filmmaker Justin Sisely had to have expected some sort of legal backlash when he decided to produce a reality television show called "Virgins Wanted."

The Aussie show has been making headlines for its outrageous premise : A 20-year-old Brazilian-born virgin Catarina Migliorini auctions off her virginity to the highest bidder.

A website was created with the intended purpose of auctioning off her virginity. The auction closed last week, and the top bid was a stunning $780,000. The winning bidder is a Japanese man identified only as "Natsu" and the plan is for the pair to have sex on a plane between Australia and the U.S. in a bid to avoid prostitution laws.

Also see: Brazilian woman auctions off virginity for $780,000

But on Sunday, Brazil's attorney general Joao Pedro de Saboia Bandeira de Mello Filho demanded an investigation of Sisely and Migliorini's actions, claiming that the auction amounted to "people trafficking," reports the Daily Mail.

He wants Sisely arrested for trafficking, and is asking Australian authorities to revoke Migliorini's visa on charges of prostitution and deport her back to Brazil.

It's an international legal quagmire of rather perplexing proportions, so perplexing that we've asked two Canadian experts in criminal law to weighed in on how and who might be able to take legal action against either Sisely or Migliorini.

Also see: Gossip website The Dirty investigated by CBC

Arun Maini is the managing director of Toronto-based criminal law firm The Defence Group and a former federal prosecutor who has handled international cases of human trafficking. Edward Prutschi is a criminal lawyer with Toronto law firm Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman.

We asked them to clarify the many baffling details of this story.

Does doing something illegal in the air between two countries allow you to circumvent the laws of those countries?

Prutschi: Generally speaking, a crime on board a Canadian aircraft can be tried in either the originating country or in Canada, regardless of whether the offence happened in Canadian, foreign or international airspace. I suspect that other countries have very similar provisions to those that we have in Canada and operate in the same way. A host of treaties and international legal principles are involved in crimes that occur on aircraft. The one thing that is certain is that being on an airplane in flight does NOT free people from the constraints of criminal law.

Maini: The responsibility for investigating and prosecuting criminal activity in international air space falls mainly on the country in which the aircraft is registered, with some exceptions where a country invokes the provisions of multilateral cooperation because of its own specific legal interests.

Who would conduct the investigation that the Brazilian attorney general is calling for?

Prutschi: In theory, any country with an interest in the case can "investigate," but it strikes me that the best "claim" to a legal investigation would be Australia, as the originating country.

Maini: Likely the Australian federal police, which are responsible for investigating crimes with an international dimension, especially those involving issues of immigration and international air space.

Do the Australians have grounds to deport Migliorini?

Prutschi: If Migliorini's actions constitute a crime in Australia, she may well be in violation of her immigration status in that country.

Maini: The Australians can deport her on a number of grounds under the Migration Act. As a non-citizen of Australia, she is required to follow the conditions of her visa. The conduct she is planning to carry out would likely violate some of those conditions, including being of "bad character" (which gives the immigration authorities a fair amount of discretion in interpretation); being an accessory to committing an illegal act of soliciting or procuring prostitution; and possibly for violating work restrictions, depending on how she is getting paid.

Has Sisely committed human trafficking by facilitating this auction?

Prutschi: When dealing with a 20-year-old woman who clearly is entering this arrangement voluntarily, I find it hard to see how the actions of Sisely are legally exploitative. They might be in terrible taste, but so is most of what we see on television these days, and that's a far cry from committing a crime. One might be able to argue exploitation if Migliorini has diminished mental capacity or is in such dire financial straits that she is effectively 'forced by circumstance' to agree to this arrangement. But those don't seem to be the facts in this case.

Maini: Unlikely, because she is over 18 and was not forced into this. I expect she has signed an iron-clad waiver that emphasizes that she is doing this voluntarily and can back out of it at any time.

Any other thoughts on this case?

Maini: There is a good chance that the sexual act will not occur, because the buyer will be spooked by the publicity and the fear of prosecution, and she might back out of it for fear of being deported. The show and its producer will have achieved their primary goal, which is publicity and ratings for the show, and will likely implement some face-saving gestures, such as a public apology, claiming there was never any intention to harm or offend anyone, and they will make a large charitable donation. But likely, they will gain far more than they lose, because of the publicity and ratings bonanza.

Prutschi: This scenario is bizarre on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin.