Mann Act

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Mann Act

The Mann Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 2421 et seq.), also known as the White Slave Traffic Act, is a federal criminal statute that deals with prostitution and Child Pornography. Enacted in 1910 and named for its sponsor, Representative james r. mann, of Illinois, it also was used to prosecute men who took women across state lines for consensual sex.

Representative Mann introduced the act in December 1909 at the request of Chicago prosecutors who claimed that girls and women were being forced into prostitution by unscrupulous pimps and procurers. The term white slavery became popular to describe the predicament these females faced. It was alleged that men were tricking, coercing, and drugging females to get them involved in prostitution and then forcing them to stay in brothels.

The legislation was intended to stop the interstate trafficking of women. Though federal criminal statutes were rare in 1910, and seen as an attack on state police powers, the legislation encountered little opposition. The act made it a felony to transport knowingly any woman or girl in interstate commerce or foreign commerce for prostitution, debauchery, or any other immoral purpose. It also made it a felony to coerce a woman or a girl into such immoral acts. President william h. taft signed the bill in June 1910.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Mann Act in Hoke v. United States, 227 U.S. 308, 33 S. Ct. 281, 57 L. Ed. 523 (1913). The Court broadened the scope of the act in Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 37 S. Ct. 192, 61 L. Ed. 442 (1917), when it ruled that the act applied to noncommercial acts of immorality. In Caminetti the Court seized on the phrase "any other immoral purpose," concluding that Congress intended to prevent the use of interstate commerce to promote sexual immorality. This interpretation radically changed the scope of the act.

The Mann Act was used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to curtail commercialized vice. It was also often used to prosecute prominent persons who did not conform to conventional morality. Jack Johnson, a heavyweight boxing champion, was charged with and convicted of a Mann Act violation in 1912, for taking his mistress across state lines. Over the years, similar charges were leveled against the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the actor Charlie Chaplin, and the rock and roll singer Chuck Berry. Of these three, only Berry was convicted of a Mann Act violation.

Congress amended the act in 1978 to attack the problem of child Pornography. The amendments made the act's provisions regarding this issue gender neutral, so that both boys and girls who were sexually exploited were now protected (Pub. L. No. 95-225, 92 Stat. 8–9). In 1986 the law was further amended. The new amendments made the entire act gender neutral as to victims of sexual exploitation. More important, all references to debauchery and any other immoral purpose were replaced by the phrase "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense" (Pub. L. No. 99-628, 100 Stat. 3511–3512.) This change took the federal government out of the business of defining immoral. Because most states have repealed criminal laws against fornication and Adultery, noncommercial, consensual sexual activity no longer is subject to prosecution.

Further readings

Grittner, Frederick K. 1990. White Slavery: Myth, Ideology, and American Law. New York: Garland.

Langum, David J. 1994. Crossing over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mann Act

n. a federal statute making it a crime to transport a woman across state lines for "immoral" purposes. The Mann Act was intended to prevent the movement of prostitutes from one state to another or in and out of the country in the so-called "white slave" trade. However, it also applies to a male taking his under-age girlfriend to a love-nest in a neighboring state, or a female transporting an underage boy across the state line for such purposes. Maximum term is five years in a federal prison.

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Eventually, the feds decided that the act's "for any other immoral purposes" clause gave them license to target adulterers, criminal seducers, fornicators, homosexuals, and other sexual "deviants." In a survey of bureau field offices in 1929, respondents all said that Mann Act cases made up the largest portion of their caseloads, and many investigations were initiated by individuals--"namely, wives of subjects who have been deserted or husbands of victims who have left with another individual." Parents seeking recourse against cads who had seduced their daughters were also common.
When, in 1917, the Supreme Court upheld a broad interpretation of "any immoral purpose," to include noncommercial and consensual sex acts ranging from adultery to seduction, the FBI became empowered to enforce the Mann Act "as a bulwark in defense of traditional gender"--and, we could add, racial--"roles," writes Pliley.
officials charged a group of defendants with Mann Act violations,
Pliley argues that the modern FBI was built upon the work of its White Slave Division, which "transformed the BOI into a truly national agency." Enforcing the Mann Act "justified the bureau's appeals to Congress for more funds and established its authority in the public culture." Most importantly, the white slave investigations "established a more aggressive model for federal law enforcement than previously existed--both seeking to prevent law breaking and investigating ordinary citizens, thereby setting important precedents" for what became the FBI.
[W]e perceive in the failure of the Mann Act to condemn the woman's participation in those transportations which are effected with her mere consent, evidence of an affirmative legislative policy to leave her acquiescence unpunished.
At first it seemed that the champion had little to worry about from such a discredited accuser, especially as the alleged offence had occurred before the Mann Act was passed.
At the time the Mann Act was passed, women who had lost their reputations for "chastity" would face diminished opportunities for marriage, and thus might find themselves destitute.
But in this Mann Act offense, once initial culpability is demonstrated with proof of knowing transportation, culpability is normatively irrelevant to justifying additional punishment; only instrumental goals control, which is a view that contributes to the intuitive appeal of the grammar analysis.
In 1913, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act. The sentencing judge acknowledged a desire to "send a message'' to black men about relationships with white women.
The Mann Act, also known as the White Slave Law and enacted in 1910, was the most tar-reaching legislative attempt to counteract white slavery.
But, hey, at least it was his own money, and he may be prosecuted under a statute called the Mann Act.
Again, from Love's story: "In June 1910, the month Congress unanimously passed the Mann Act, known as the White Slavery Act, the American yogi Pierre Bernard was jailed for abducting two young women in New York City; a week of sensational press coverage, in which he was forever branded the Omnipotent Oom, the Loving Guru of the Tantriks, ensued." Here's a typical headline from William Randolph Hearst's New York American: 'Police Break in on Weird Hindu Rites: Girls and Men Mystics Cease Strange Dance as 'Priest' Is Arrested.'"