The Mann Act
The United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 banned white slavery. The Act also prohibited the interstate transportation of women for prostitution purposes. Better known as the Mann Act, for the Illinois representative James Robert Mann, the act sought to reduce prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking.
Human trafficking had become an international source of concern, especially in England during the 1880’s and in the United States during the decade before World War I. In 1910, a lawyer from Chicago declared brothel workers in the city were abducted by a crime ring in Europe and forced to move to America for prostitution. This statement caused a massive outcry and response from politicians and social rights advocates. Although many of the charges were exaggerated, James Robert Mann took advantage of the social uproar and introduced the Mann Act in this volatile political climate. Instead of being structured as criminal law, the Mann Act was formulated to guard against the interstate commerce quality of human trafficking. During that time period, the U.S. Senate’s ability to draft criminal legislation was weak; therefore, the commercial bend of the Act helped it to pass more quickly into law.
The Mann Act officially prohibited the transportation of “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery…or for any other immoral purpose.” The language of the law was purposely vague in order to allow for a broader interpretation of criminal actions in future years. The most popular application of the Act following its induction was to prosecute men who had sexual relationships with underage women. Additionally, it was frequently used to harass people for immoral activity, although the unclear definition allowed law enforcement to pursue whatever actions it considered indecent at the time.
The first person prosecuted under the Mann Act was boxing champion Jack Johnson, an African American male. After sexual involvement with a white prostitute, Lucille Cameron, the police went after the boxer. However, Cameron married Johnson in order to escape testifying against him. However, Belle Schreiber, another prostitute from Cameron’s brothel who had been involved with Johnson, was next in line to testify against Johnson. After her statements in court, Johnson was convicted and sentenced to a maximum penalty of a year and a day in prison. Other famous cases under the United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 include Charles Chaplin, Elizabeth Smart, and Frank LaSalle.
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If you are interested learning more about modern day violations, this Mann Act website can provide more helpful information.