The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

I have knowingly turned men into criminals once or twice in my life. I’ve often laughed about it. I have never regretted it.

But I really shouldn’t joke about the Mann Act. There’s a definite need for it. It’s a powerful tool against human trafficking and abductions. But it has an interesting history.

According to Wikipedia, the Mann Act, as originally written in 1910, 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 main purpose was to reduce prostitution, but its vague wording meant that it impacted so much more than that. It meant, for example, that every time I traveled out of state with a boyfriend before 1986, even though it was consensual, he was committing a felony. Thanks a lot, Congressman Mann.

It’s very interesting that it came about in 1910, just when women were really starting to work outside the home and also attend universities. I’m sure there was a lot of parental panic during that time. The Mann Act would be yet another way to keep the girls at home.

There was a lot of whipped up hysteria about white slavery in that era, too. People honestly believed that their innocent white girls would be scooped up by nefarious foreigners (the finger was often pointed at Chinese men) and forced into prostitution at a time when all the brothels, with all the “willing” prostitutes, were being shut down.

The US District Attorney in Chicago even said, “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?”

Heavens above. Shades of Pizzagate. And more evidence that people will believe anything. Studies at the time debunked this conspiracy theory and maintained that women became sex workers, willingly or unwillingly, for economic reasons, just as they usually do today.

There were also a lot of stories that ended with women being rescued and then converted to Christianity, so a lot of churches jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon. Let’s save these women, morally and spiritually. Religion is a numbers game at its very core.

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that there was also a racist tone to the Mann Act. Men were much more likely to be arrested for violating it if the parties in question were of different races. And if the woman rose to the man’s defense by saying she had consented to the “illicit fornication” she could be considered an accessory. Awkward.

The Mann Act is often used to prosecute polygamy as well. And I agree that if the wife in question is underaged, or forced into the situation against her will, this is a fine use of the act. But there are lots of shades of grey in any situation. It was also often used as a form of blackmail, when angry wives threatened to have their cheating husbands imprisoned.

I find it interesting that in 1926, Frank Lloyd Wright was accused of violating the act with his third wife before they were married, but the charges were eventually dropped. Also, Charlie Chaplin was prosecuted in 1944 for buying his mistress a train ticket to New York. He was acquitted. Charles Manson was charged in 1960 for taking two prostitutes from California to New Mexico, but for some crazy reason, the charges were dropped. Chuck Berry was convicted in 1962 for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines. He was sentenced to three years in prison. It was overturned on appeal. (Given his history of sexual exploitation and abuse, that final result is a shame.)

The Mann Act has never been repealed, but it has been changed. In 1978 it was expanded to cover child pornography and exploitation. In 1986 it was made to be gender neutral, as males can be exploited, too. And now you have to be accused of the type of sexual activity that is a criminal offense. Rape, yes. Abduction, yes. Pedophilia, yes. But no more interfering in the shenanigans of consenting adults. Yay.

It’s fascinating to see this cultural struggle writ large in our federal laws. Certain regulations are definitely required, because there are evil people in this world, and sex trafficking is not okay. But don’t get between me and my ability to have a romantic weekend getaway to a charming bed and breakfast. That’s out of the question.

The best way to travel vicariously, and without threat of violating the Mann Act, is through books. Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

4 thoughts on “Violating the Mann Act

  1. Lyn says:

    So as long as you don’t cross state lines it’s not sex trafficking, I’m confused as to why crossing state lines makes any of that worse than having it done to you within the state, Wouldn’t have been anymore damaged by abductors if they had taken me across state lines. Just saying… 🙃 Maybe they should repeal it considering how it’s historical abuses have fractured it’s weak foundation. They need to start over and build a better one. I mean, it’s still called, ‘The White-Slave Traffic Act,’ which some might think it’s only meant to protect whites from being trafficked.

    1. Well, its official name is the Mann Act. Never heard the other name. But there are other laws in place for rape, abuse, kidnapping, and abduction within each state. Although we know they’re not enforced. It’s just that you have to cross a state line for it to become federal.

  2. Lyn says:

    It’s the very1st thing the Wikipedia article, you posted, cites…”The White-Slave Traffic Act, also called the Mann Act “.
    It’s also credited in the third paragraph of this… https://www.history.com/news/white-slave-mann-act-jack-johnson-pardon The fact that so few use, or notice, it’s other title, speaks volumes about it’s ambiguous nature.

    Yes, I know it becomes a federal matter if you cross state lines and thus penalties are harsher, but the damage is the same if you comit the crime within state lines, so for victims sakes, state penalties and efforts to catch and prosecute should be equal to federal ones. That might be too much justice for our current justice system… Thus, why I used the inverted smiley face which commonly conveys sarcasm, irony, humor, and silliness. It is frequently used as a playful indication of awkwardness, frustration, ambivalence, or bemused resignation, as if saying, “Oh well!” 🙂

  3. Lyn says:

    Its official name is The White Slave Traffic Act, but it’s better known as the Mann Act, according to npr… https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88104308
    Not trying to pick on you. Just pointing out a truth about how this poorly written act has been rebranded so it could remain on the books in spite of it’s racist history.

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