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Mann Act

mann act, mann act of 1913
The White-Slave Traffic Act, or the Mann Act, is a United States federal law, passed June 25, 1910 ch 395, 36 Stat 825; codified as amended at 18 USC §§ 2421–2424

It is named after Congressman James Robert Mann of Illinois, and in its original form made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of "any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose" Its primary stated intent was to address prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking, particularly where trafficking was for the purposes of prostitution This is one of several acts of protective legislation aimed at moral reform during the progressive era In practice, its ambiguous language about "immorality" has resulted in its being used to criminalize even consensual sexual behavior between adults1 It was amended by Congress in 1978 and again in 1986 to apply to transport for the purpose of prostitution or illegal sexual acts2


  • 1 Promotion
  • 2 Legal application
    • 21 Notable prosecutions under the Mann Act
    • 22 Notable individuals investigated under the Act
    • 23 Mann Act case decisions by the United States Supreme Court
  • 3 Congressional amendments to the law
  • 4 Effects and alterations of the Mann Act
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 Suggested reading


In the 19th century, many of America's cities had a designated, legally protected area of prostitution, and increased urbanization as well as greater numbers of young women entering the workforce led to greater flexibility in courtship without supervision It is in this changing social sphere that concern over "white slavery" began This term referred to women being kidnapped for the purposes of prostitutioncitation needed

Numerous communities appointed vice commissions to investigate the extent of local prostitution, whether prostitutes participated in it willingly or were forced into it, and the degree to which it was organized by any cartel-type organizations The second significant action at the local level was to close the brothels and the red light districts From 1910 to 1913, city after city changed previously tolerant approaches and forced the closing of their brothels Opposition to openly practiced prostitution had been growing steadily throughout the last decades of the 19th century The federal government's response was the Mann Act The purpose of the act was to make it a crime to "transport or cause to be transported, or aid to assist in obtaining transportation for" or to "persuade, induce, entice or coerce" a woman to travel3 Many of the changes that occurred after 1900 were a result of tensions between social ideals and practical realities Family form and functions changed in response to a complex set of circumstances that were the effects of economic class and ethnicity4

According to historian Mark Thomas Connelly, "a group of books and pamphlets appeared announcing a startling claim: a pervasive and depraved conspiracy was at large in the land, brutally trapping and seducing American girls into lives of enforced prostitution, or 'white slavery' These white slave narratives, or white-slave tracts, began to circulate around 1909"2 Such narratives often portrayed innocent girls "victimized by a huge, secret and powerful conspiracy controlled by foreigners", as they were drugged or imprisoned and forced into prostitutioncitation needed2

"Ice cream parlors of the city and fruit stores combined, largely run by foreigners, are the places where scores of girls have taken their first step downward Does her mother know the character of the place and the man she is with"

This excerpt from The War on the White Slave Trade was written by the United States District Attorney in Chicago:

One thing should be made very clear to the girl who comes up to the city, and that is that the ordinary ice cream parlor is very likely to be a spider's web for her entanglement This is perhaps especially true of those ice cream saloons and fruit stores kept by foreigners Scores of cases are on record where young girls have taken their first step towards "white slavery" in places of this character2

According to Connelly, such concerns represented a "hysterical" version of genuine and long-standing issues arising from the concentration of young women from rural backgrounds in the expanding cities of the era, many of whom were drawn into prostitution for "mundane" economic reasons A number of Vice Commission reports had drawn attention to the issue2 Some contemporaries questioned the idea of abduction and foreign control of prostitution through cartels For example, noted radical and feminist Emma Goldman asked "What is really the cause of the trade in women Not merely white women, but yellow and black women as well Exploitation, of course; the merciless Moloch of capitalism that fattens on underpaid labor, thus driving thousands of women and girls into prostitution With Mrs Warren these girls feel, 'Why waste your life working for a few shillings a week in a scullery, eighteen hours a day' Whether our reformers admit it or not, the economic and social inferiority of woman is responsible for prostitution"5 While prostitution was widespread, contemporary studies by local vice commissions indicate that it was "overwhelmingly locally organized without any large business structure, and willingly engaged in by the prostitutes"6

Suffrage activists, especially Harriet Burton Laidlaw7 and Rose Livingston, took up the concerns They worked in New York City's Chinatown and in other cities to rescue young white and Chinese girls from forced prostitution, and helped pass the Mann Act to make interstate sex trafficking a federal crime3 Livingston publicly discussed her past as a prostitute and made the claim that she was abducted and developed a drug problem as a sex slave in a Chinese man's home, narrowly escaped, and experienced a Christian conversion Although her claim was unsupported by evidence, her story exemplified the stereotypes used to pass the Mann Act—fear of foreigners, especially Chinese men; abduction and drugging in order to be raped and enslaved; a narrow escape; and salvation through Christian conversion89 Other groups like the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and Hull House focused on children of prostitutes and poverty in community life while trying to pass protective legislation The American Purity Alliance also supported the Mann Act10

Legal applicationedit

Jack Johnson marries Lucille Cameron 1912

Although the law was created to stop forced sexual slavery of women, the most common use of the Mann Act was to prosecute men for having sex with under-age females4 The phrase "immoral purpose" in the statute allowed an extremely broad application of the law following the United States Supreme Court ruling in Caminetti v United States 1917, which held that "illicit fornication", even when consensual, constituted an "immoral purpose"

In addition to its stated purpose of preventing human trafficking, the law was used to prosecute unlawful pre-marital, extra-marital, and inter-racial relationships The penalties would be applied to men whether or not the woman involved consented and, if she had consented, the woman could be considered an accessory to the offense Some attribute enactment of the law to the case of world champion heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson11 Johnson was known to be intimate with white women, some of whom he met at the fighting venue after his fights The year the Mann Act of 1912 was enactedcitation needed, he was prosecuted, and later convicted, for "transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes" as a result of his relationship with a white prostitute named Belle Schreiber; the month prior to the prosecution, Johnson had been charged with violating the Mann Act due to traveling with his Caucasian girlfriend, Lucille Cameron, who refused to cooperate with the prosecution and whom he married soon thereafter12

The 1948 prosecution of Frank LaSalle for abducting Florence Sally Horner is believed to have been an inspiration for Vladimir Nabokov in writing his novel Lolita13 The Mann Act has also been used by the US federal government to prosecute polygamists such as Mormon fundamentalists614 because the US has no federal law against polygamy14 All US states have anti-polygamy laws, but only in recentwhen years have state authorities used them to prosecute bigamy Colorado City, Arizona; Hildale, Utah; Bountiful, British Columbia; and sites in Mexico8 are historic locations of several Mormon sects that practiced polygamy9 Sect leaders and individuals14 have been charged under the Mann Act when "wives" are transported across the Utah–Arizona state line or the US–Canadian and US–Mexican borders1014

Notable prosecutions under the Mann Actedit

Person Year Decision Notes
George Barker 1940 Charges dropped The British poet was arrested crossing a state border with his lover Canadian author Elizabeth Smart in 1940 She described the arrest in her book By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Chuck Berry 1962 Convicted In January 1962, Berry was sentenced to three years in prison for offenses under the Mann Act when he had transported a 14-year-old girl across state lines151617
Kid Cann 1959 Convicted/
Acquitted on appeal
Cann, who was an organized crime figure from Minneapolis, Minnesota, was prosecuted and convicted for transporting a prostitute from Chicago to Minnesota His conviction was later overturned on appeal Cann was later prosecuted and convicted of offering a $25,000 bribe to a juror at his Mann Act trialcitation needed
Farley Drew Caminetti 1913 Convicted He and Maury I Diggs took their mistresses from Sacramento, California to Reno, Nevada Their wives informed the police, and both men were arrested in Reno Caminetti v United States expanded Mann Act prosecutions from prostitution to non-commercial extramarital sex18
Charlie Chaplin 1944 Acquitted Chaplin met Joan Barry, age 24, in 1941 He signed her to a $75-a-week contract for a film he was putting together, and she became his mistress By the summer of 1942, Chaplin let her contract expire To send her home, Chaplin paid her train fare to New York which led to his arrest1619 Chaplin was acquitted of the charges
Finis Dake 1937 Convicted In 1937, he was convicted of violating the Mann Act by wilfully transporting 16-year-old Emma Barelli across the Wisconsin state line "for the purpose of debauchery and other immoral practices" The May 27, 1936, issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Dake registered at hotels in Waukegan, Bloomington, and East St Louis with the girl under the name "Christian Anderson and wife" In order to avoid a jury trial and the possibility of being sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000, Dake pleaded guilty Subsequently, he served six months in the House of Corrections in Milwaukee, Wisconsin20
Rex Ingram 1949 Convicted Pleading guilty to the charge of transporting a teenage girl to New York for immoral purposes, he was sentenced to eighteen months in jail He served just ten months of his sentence, but the incident had a serious impact on his career for the next six years21
Jack Johnson 1912 Convicted In October and November 1912, Johnson was arrested twice under the Mann Act It is generally acknowledged that the arrests were racially motivated A presidential pardon was requested in 20091622
Charles Manson 1960 Charges dropped Manson took two prostitutes from California to New Mexico to work23
William I Thomas 1918 Acquitted Pioneering sociologist William I Thomas's academic career at the University of Chicago was irreversibly damaged after he was arrested under the act when caught in the company of one Mrs Granger, the wife of an army officer with the American forces in France Thomas was acquitted at trial24
Frank Lloyd Wright 1926 Charges dropped In October 1926, Wright and Olga Lazovich Hinzenburg were accused of violating the Mann Act and he was arrested in Minnetonka, Minnesota16
Tony Alamo 2008 Convicted The former American religious leader was arrested under the Mann Act in September 200825 He was subsequently convicted on 10 counts of interstate transportation of minors for illegal sexual purposes, rape, sexual assault, and contributing to the delinquency of minors2627
Brian David Mitchell 2010 Convicted Former street preacher and pedophile; convicted in 2010 of interstate kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor across state lines in connection with the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart; currently serving a life sentence in federal prison28
Jack Schaap 2012 Convicted Pastor at mega-church First Baptist Church Hammond, Indiana and Chancellor of Hyles–Anderson College, pleaded guilty to transportation of a minor across state lines to have sex with a 16-year-old he was counseling293031 He was sentenced to 12 years in prison32

Notable individuals investigated under the Actedit

  • Anwar al-Awlaki, an American Islamist cleric, was investigated for violations of Mann Act, authorities primarily wanting to arrest him for his ties to the 9/11 hijackers, but left the United States for Yemen before he could be detained33
  • Dušan Popov, a World War II Allied double agent with a "James Bond" lifestyle, was threatened with arrest under the Mann Act34
  • Individuals associated with an Emperors Club VIP prostitution ring that had former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer as a client35
  • Individuals associated with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints FLDS church, such as Warren Jeffs and Merril Jessop have refused to answer questions during depositions and court hearings, citing the 5th amendment, over concerns of self-incrimination related to "potential state investigation still ongoing, as well as criminal investigations under the Mann Act out of the US Attorney's Office"36

Mann Act case decisions by the United States Supreme Courtedit

  • Hoke v United States, 227 US 308 1913 The Court held that Congress could not regulate prostitution per se, as that was strictly the province of the states Congress could, however, regulate interstate travel for purposes of prostitution or "immoral purposes"
  • Athanasaw v United States, 227 US 326 1913 The Court decided that the law was not limited strictly to prostitution, but to "debauchery" as well
  • Caminetti v United States, 242 US 470 1917 The Court decided that the Mann Act applied not strictly to purposes of prostitution, but to other noncommercial consensual sexual liaisons Thus consensual extramarital sex falls within the genre of "immoral sex"
  • Gebardi v United States, 287 US 112 1932 The Court held that the statutory intent was not to punish a woman's acquiescence; therefore, consent by the woman does not expose her to liability
  • Cleveland v United States, 329 US 14 1946 The Court decided that a person can be prosecuted under the Mann Act even when married to the woman if the marriage is polygamous Thus polygamous marriage was determined to be an "immoral purpose"
  • Bell v United States, 349 US 81 1955 The Supreme Court decided that simultaneous transportation of two women across state lines constituted only one violation of the Mann Act, not two violations

Congressional amendments to the lawedit

In 1978, Congress updated the act's definition of "transportation" and added protections against commercial sexual exploitation for minors It added a 1986 amendment which further protected minors and added protection for adult males In particular, as part of a larger 1986 bill focused on criminalizing various aspects of child pornography that passed unanimously in both houses of Congress,37 the Mann act was further amended to replace the ambiguous "debauchery" and "any other immoral purpose" with the more specific "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense" as well as to make it gender-neutral37

Effects and alterations of the Mann Actedit

While the Mann Act was meant to combat forced prostitution, it had repercussions that extended into consensual sexual activity Because it lacked specificity, it criminalized many who were not participating in prostitution It became a way to persecute large numbers of unmarried couples participating in premarital or extramarital activities, especially when it involved crossing state lines such as in the cases for Chuck Berry and Jack Johnson38 The Mann Act also became a form of blackmail, by wives who were suspicious of cheating husbands or other women This was the case for both Drew Caminetti and Maury Diggs Both men from Sacramento, California, were married, and took their mistresses Lola Norris and Marsha Warrington to Reno, Nevada The men's wives contacted the police, and the men were arrested in Reno and found guilty under the Mann Act38 One author wrote:

In 1914 a woman by the name of Jessie A Cope was arrested in Chicago for attempting to bribe an official to assist her in the blackmail of Colonel Charles Alexander of Providence Rhode Island, on a white slavery charge The two had met two years previous in LA, Alexander had promised to divorce his wife, and marry her When he attempted to leave her, Cope and her mother pursued him to Providence Cope consulted lawyers in Providence and LA, then brought the charges in Chicago, where she was arrested39

Upon continuous blackmail accounts, The New York Times became an advocate against the Mann Act:

In 1915 the paper published an editorial pointing out how the act led to extortion In 1916 it labeled the Mann Act "The Blackmail Act", noting that its dangers had been clear from the start The act made a harmless spree or simple elopement a crime, and the blackmail that resulted from the Mann Act was worse than the prostitution it sought to suppress39

While the Mann Act has never been repealed, it has been amended and altered since its initial passing The Mann Act continued essentially unchanged until 1978 amendments that expanded coverage to issues around child pornography and exploitation Most recently, in 1986, the Mann Act was significantly altered to make the whole Act gender neutral and to redress the specific ambiguous phrasing that had enabled decades of unjust applications of the Act With the 1986 amendments, the Mann Act outlaws interstate or foreign transport of "any person" for purposes of "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense"4038 Prior to the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v Texas 2003, sodomy was illegal in many states which left open the possibility of prosecution under the Mann Act of consenting adult couples, especially gay couples, though there is no record of such enforcement actions6 Since 1978 most prosecutions have been related to child abuse and child trafficking casescitation needed

See alsoedit

  • Sex trafficking in the United States
  • Travel Act


  1. ^ "Mann Act" Dictionary of American History 2003 encyclopediacom 21 October 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e Bell, Ernest Albert The War on the White Slave Trade Chicago: GS Ball, 1910 eBook
  3. ^ a b Brian K Landsberg Major Acts of Congress Macmillan Reference USA: The Gale Group, 2004 251-253 Print
  4. ^ a b Elizabeth Faue The Emergence of Modern America 1890 to 1923 Encyclopedia of American History, 2003 169-170Print
  5. ^ Emma Goldman, The Traffic In Women Red Emma Speaks: Selected Writings and Speeches New York: Random House, 1972 ISBN 0-394-47095-8
  6. ^ a b c Langum, David J 1994 Crossing Over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act Chicago: University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-46880-1
  7. ^ Laidlaw, H B Harriet Burton, b 1874, Papers, 1851–1958, A Finding Aid, harvardedu
  8. ^ a b Lui, Mary Ting Yi 1 September 2009 "Saving young girls from Chinatown: white slavery and woman suffrage, 1910-1920" Journal of the History of Sexuality 
  9. ^ a b Massotta, Jodie Decades of Reform: Prostitutes, Feminists, and the War on White Slavery Archived July 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Diss University of Vermont, 2013 Print
  10. ^ a b Bell, pp 44-45
  11. ^ The Mann Act from Ken Burn's series "Unforgivable Blackness"
  12. ^ "Year in Cell for Johnson; $1,000 Fine, Too, for Pugilist's White Slavery Offense" New York Times June 4, 1913 
  13. ^ Alexander Dolinin "What Happened to Sally Horner: A Real-Life Source of Nabokov's Lolita" zembla Art & Humanities Library of Pennsylvania State University Retrieved March 10, 2008  Humbert, the narrator, at one point explicitly refers to LaSalle
  14. ^ a b c d Red Emma Speaks: Selected Writings and Speeches New York: Random House, 1972 ISBN 0-394-47095-8
  15. ^ "Chuck Berry" The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum 
  16. ^ a b c d Weiner, Eric March 11, 2008 "All Things Considered: The Long, Colorful History of the Mann Act" NPR Retrieved July 23, 2009 
  17. ^ "295 F2d 192" ftpresourceorg Archived from the original on October 13, 2010 Retrieved June 4, 2010 
  18. ^ "Caminetti Guilty On Only One Count Two Jurors Hold Out for Acquittal for Three Hours, but Finally Compromise" The New York Times September 6, 1913 Retrieved August 20, 2010 Farley Drew Caminetti, son of the Commissioner General of Immigration, was found guilty late to-day on one count of the indictment charging him with violation of the Mann White Slave act 
  19. ^ "Mann & Woman" Time April 3, 1944 Retrieved August 21, 2007 Auburn-haired Joan Berry, 24, who wandered from her native Detroit to New York to Hollywood in pursuit of a theatrical career, became a Chaplin protégée in the summer of 1941 Chaplin signed her to a $75-a-week contract, began training her for a part in a projected picture Two weeks after the contract was signed, she became his mistress By late summer of 1942, Chaplin had decided that she was unsuited for his film Her contract ended Chaplin paid her train fare both ways but did not travel with her, did not pay her hotel bills Asserted by the defence: she went at her own request; Chaplin had no "intent" to transport her for immoral purposes and did not consummate any such purpose in New York 
  20. ^ Chambers, Pastor Joseph September 19, 1999 "An Open Letter to Pastor Joseph Chambers, Author of an Article Entitled 'Confused Charismatic Theology & the Dake's Bible'" Charlotte, NC: Paw Creek Ministries Retrieved July 23, 2009 
  21. ^ Eder, Bruce "Rex Ingram Biography" All Movie Guide AMC Retrieved July 23, 2009 
  22. ^ Murray, Chris July 5, 2009 "Congress Looks to Pardon Boxing Great" Reno Gazette-Journal Retrieved July 23, 2009 dead link
  23. ^ Bugliosi, Vincent with Gentry, Curt 1994 Helter Skelter — The True Story of the Manson Murders 25th Anniversary Edition WW Norton & Company ISBN 0-393-08700-X pp 137–146
  24. ^ "Thomas and Woman Freed Evidence Sought for Prosecution under the Mann Act" The New York Times April 20, 1918 Retrieved August 22, 2010 
  25. ^ 1 CNN September 26, 2008 Retrieved July 30, 2011
  26. ^ 2 Archived March 24, 2012, at the Wayback Machine July 24, 2009 CNN Retrieved July 30, 2011
  27. ^ Gambrell, John "FBI: Evangelist Alamo arrested in child sex probe" Associated Press via Yahoo! News Retrieved September 26, 2008 dead link
  28. ^ Enos, Robin May 25, 2011, "Kidnapper Brian David Mitchell Sentenced to Life findlawcom
  29. ^ "Jack Schaap Confesses To Sexual Relationship With Teen After Firing From Megachurch" The Huffington Post August 2, 2012 Retrieved December 24, 2012 
  30. ^ "Jack Schaap Pleads Guilty in Teen Sex Case, Denies Knowing Act Was Crime" Christian Post 2012-08-27 Retrieved December 24, 2012 
  31. ^ "Oh, Mann! Pastor says he was unaware of curious law" Chicago Tribune August 27, 2012 Retrieved December 24, 2012 
  32. ^ "Judge Rejects Reduced Sentence In Former Pastor's Sex Case" CBS Chicago January 5, 2013 Retrieved April 8, 2015 
  33. ^ Rhee, Joseph; Mark Schone November 30, 2009 "How Anwar Awlaki Got Away" The Blotter from Brian Ross; Fort Hood Investigation ABC News Retrieved December 1, 2009 
  34. ^ Gentry, Curt 2001 J Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets W W Norton & Company p 272 ISBN 0-393-32128-2 
  35. ^ Hakim, Danny; Rashbaum, William K March 10, 2008 "Spitzer Is Linked to Prostitution Ring" The New York Times Retrieved August 22, 2010 Federal prosecutors rarely charge clients in prostitution cases, which are generally seen as state crimes But the Mann Act, passed by Congress in 1910 to address prostitution, human trafficking and what was viewed at the time as immorality in general, makes it a crime to transport someone between states for the purpose of prostitution The four defendants charged in the case unsealed last week were all charged with that crime, along with several others 
  36. ^ Anthony, Paul January 28, 2009 "FLDS leader invokes 5th in deposition: He pleads it more than 250 times, court transcript says" San Angelo Standard-Times Archived from the original on February 5, 2009 Retrieved July 24, 2009 
  37. ^ a b "Reagan Signs Tough Bill In Crackdown on Child Porn" United Press International via the San Francisco Chronicle November 8, 1986 "President Reagan signed a bill yesterday strengthening provisions of existing child pornography laws The new measure, passed unanimously by both houses of Congress, would make it a crime to advertise to buy or sell child pornography, to seek children for the production of pornography or to participate with children in the production of it On another subject, the bill rewrites the Mann Act, a relic of the early part of the century, which makes it a crime to transport a woman across state lines for 'immoral' purposes The new provision makes the statute gender-neutral and eliminates archaic language"
  38. ^ a b c "Unforgivable Blackness, Knockout" PBS PBS, nd Web 14 Nov 2013
  39. ^ a b McLaren, Angus "Entrapping the Jazz-Age American Male" Sexual Blackmail: A Modern History Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002 87 Print
  40. ^ Langum, David J "Mann Act 1910" Major Acts of Congress 2004 Encyclopediacom 14 Nov 2013 <http://wwwencyclopediacom>

Suggested readingedit

  • Langum, David J 1994 Crossing Over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act Chicago: University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-46880-1 

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