The Source: "Policing Sexuality": The Mann Act And White Slavery
Charles Manson, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Lloyd Wright and Chuck Berry: what do these men have in common?
They were all charged with violating the Mann Act, also known at the White Slavery law.
The progressive era law has been on the books for over one hundred years - and was used to build the FBI - enforce a moral code against sexual deviancy and promote gender roles for women.
The Mann Act was America’s first anti–sex trafficking law. It made it illegal to transport women over state lines for prostitution “or any other immoral purpose.” It was meant to protect women and girls from being seduced or sold into sexual slavery. But, as Jessica Pliley illustrates, its enforcement resulted more often in the policing of women’s sexual behavior, reflecting conservative attitudes toward women’s roles at home and their movements in public. By citing its mandate to halt illicit sexuality, the fledgling Bureau of Investigation gained entry not only into brothels but also into private bedrooms and justified its own expansion.
Jessica R. Pliley is an assistant professor of women’s history at Texas State University and holds a PhD from the Ohio State University. Her book manuscript, Policing Sexuality: The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI, is under contract with Harvard University Press and joins a body of work that asserts that sex trafficking has long been an issue for activists of various traditions. Yet it encourages us to consider not only how reformers have organized to eradicate sex trafficking, but also how the policies they championed were ultimately implemented. For more information, visit her website at jessicapliley.com.