The White-Slave Traffic Act 1910
The Mann Act of 1910 (also known as the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910) makes it illegal to transport “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”
The Mann Act, named for Illinois Congressman James R. Mann, used the Trade Clause to make it illegal to transfer women for immoral reasons via interstate or international commerce. Prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking were all targets of the Act. In 1907, Congress established a commission to look into the subject of immigrant prostitutes. Foreign women were allegedly transported to America for sexual enslavement, and immigrant males allegedly recruited American girls into prostitution (also known as “white slavery”). The committees felt that unless a girl was drugged or held hostage, she would not enter prostitution. This sparked public anger, and the Mann Act was finally passed as a result.
Many detractors, however, point out that the Act ended up criminalizing a variety of forms of consensual sexual conduct and had racist overtones. Following Caminetti v. United States (1917), in which the United States Supreme Court declared that “illicit fornication,” even when consenting, constituted a “immoral aim,” the word “immoral purpose” was widely used to prosecute unlawful premarital, extramarital, and interracial relationships. The male would be held accountable regardless of whether the woman consented; moreover, if the woman consented, she may be prosecuted as an accessory to the crime.
While the Act was never repealed, it was amended several times, the most notable of which were in 1978 to address child pornography issues and in 1986 to address the Act’s misuse against consensual sex by replacing the phrase “any other immoral purpose” with “any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.”
The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)