Violating the Mann Act

I have turned men into criminals.

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!


“I Don’t Consider Myself a Feminist”

I always cringe when a female says that. A friend of mine said it recently, and it nearly broke my heart. She referred me to Judge Judy, who, according to this article, says, “I never felt I didn’t have equal opportunity as a woman.” But in that same article Judge Judy admits that there were only 6 women in her law school, and the professors didn’t treat them well. She also concedes that she did all the housework and child rearing even though she and her husband both worked. I’m not sure how she characterizes opportunities for women, but this seems kind of contradictory to me. Yes, she may have overcome those hurdles, but the point is, an attitude of “suck it up and deal with it” does nothing to remove those hurdles.

Here’s why I think everyone should be a feminist: It means you believe that women should be treated equally. It means equal pay for equal work. It means not being harassed. It means an equal level of human rights. It doesn’t mean we’re out to get all men or expect special treatment as is often claimed by those who speak out against feminism. If your primary focus are those who occupy the radical fringes of this movement, then at least acknowledge that every movement will have its fringe elements.

When I have this debate with friends, they often state that they are not feminists because that equality of which I speak should be the way it is anyway. As if the unfortunate need to ask for equality or demand it somehow delegitimizes the right to have it. You may not want to be identified as part of this group, but like it or not, by virtue of being a woman you are being treated like it by outside forces.

Should equal rights be a given? Abso-freakin’-lutely. But here’s the thing: It isn’t the case. Judge Judy is the exception, not the rule. It’s awfully easy to not support the minority that you’re a part of when you’re at the top of the heap, but there are a heck of a lot of us below you, your honor.

And Judge Judy couldn’t have reached her successful pinnacle were it not for the work of feminists. For example, according to this article, here are things American women could not do less than 100 years ago:

  • Have their own name printed on a passport.

  • Wear whatever they wanted.

  • Work in “dangerous” jobs, such as in bowling alleys.

  • Maintain US citizenship if married to a non-citizen.

  • Work the night shift.

  • Hold a job while pregnant.

  • Enlist in the military.

  • Serve on a Jury.

In theory, we finally got the right to vote in 1919, but it actually took decades for that to be universally practiced in this country. Some Trump supporters, even in 2018, want to repeal the 19th amendment. Women fought and were tortured and jailed and force fed and died for that privilege, and yet only 63 percent of eligible female voters turned out for the 2016 election, and 42 percent of them voted for a man who admits to grabbing women’s private parts. I’ll never understand that as long as I live. Do we hate ourselves?

And if the Me Too movement isn’t giving you a sense of how shabbily women are treated in the workplace, your head is buried in the sand. I’ve written a couple posts about my personal experiences with harassment, and I’m pretty typical. Eighty-three percent of American women believe they have experienced discrimination in the workplace. That’s a statistic that ought to be hard to ignore.

According to this article:

  • The more education a woman gets, the higher the wage disparity becomes. The average woman will earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

  • Only 30-40 percent of all small businesses are owned by women, and they generate 61% less revenue.

In my workplace alone (the Seattle Department of Transportation), in one of the most liberal enclaves in the United States, of the 99 field positions, only a handful are held by women. And when I suggested that they make more connections with Woman in Trades organizations, to attract more female electricians, mechanics, welders and engineers, it went in one ear and out the other. That’s probably because the administration of SDOT is overwhelmingly white and male. I still work with people who use the term “cat fight” and don’t believe women should be bridgetenders.

Women’s rights are under threat all the time. We have to constantly fight to have birth control covered by insurance. No one has to fight to get Viagra covered. And there’s little or no support for affordable child care in this country. There’s constant political pushback against us making our own decisions about our health. Keep us barefoot and pregnant and out of every man’s way. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

And if we are in such an enlightened country, how is it possible that sex trafficking, child marriage, and domestic slavery still exists here?

So when a woman says, “I don’t consider myself a feminist,” what I hear is that they are comfortable enough in their situations to not have to stick their necks out. They have no desire to address the many outrages that they’re in denial about. They have theirs, and to hell with everybody else.

It would be nice if feminism were not necessary. If only wishing could make it so. But now, more than ever, we need to show a united front. Even if you don’t feel like it. If we don’t step up, why should we expect anyone else to?


Like this blog? Then you’ll LOVE this book!

It’s No Honeymoon

I heard recently that the tradition of having a honeymoon after one gets married has some very nefarious origins. Back when abducting the bride from a neighboring village or tribe was even more commonplace than it is today, it was a good idea for the man to hide the woman for a couple of weeks. That way the girl’s family had a chance to calm down, and in some cultures be assured that she was now “damaged goods” and not worthy of reclamation.

The sad thing is that this isn’t ancient history. According to Wikipedia, bride abduction is common among the Hmong people of Southeast Asia, the Romani, the Tzeltal in Mexico, and it’s a long-standing tradition amongst the people of Kyrgyzstan. It’s also still done in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Chechnya, Moldova, Turkey, parts of India and Bulgaria.

Most recently there was a horrifying abduction of 234 school girls between the ages of 16 and 18 in Nigeria. According to the Washington Post, rumor has it that they were taken into the forests and forced to marry members of the radical militant group Boko Haram. The group’s name literally translates to “western education is a sin.” “The group, for which Western education is anathema, has killed at least 2,300 people since 2010, according to estimates in journalistic and Amnesty International reports.”

When will the world stop looking at women as commodities? And what good can possibly come from relegating yourself to a lifetime of being, basically, a slave owner and a rapist? Is that your idea of happily ever after? Is readily available sex and housekeeping really worth all the misery?

Bride abduction is only one step above sex trafficking, which is also horribly prevalent throughout the world. When I was 19 I was approached by what I believe was a sex trafficker. I was in Paris, standing outside a museum, when a very good looking but strangely scary man approached me and asked if I wanted to go to a party. I said, “Uh, I don’t think my boyfriend would appreciate that.” And thank God my boyfriend arrived right at that moment. And the man ran, literally ran, away. I often think about that close call and what might have become of me. Because of this, stories like those in Nigeria strike a chord.

The frustrating thing about bride abduction, sex trafficking, and rape in general, and this is globally, is that most cultures view the victims as being culpable, tainted, and damaged, so even if they manage to get free, their lives are forever ruined, so many women simply resign themselves to their fate, which makes the whole sick crime that much easier to carry out.

Until we as a species educate ourselves and adopt a more sane attitude to these sex crimes and hold accountable the people who are really at fault, these women will be punished for the rest of their lives.


Some of the Nigerian school girls.

[Image credit:]

Modern Day Slavery

I just found out that here in the US it’s National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. I bet if someone were to take a poll, the vast majority of Americans would think that Slavery went out with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. Not so much.

According to WGBH’s “Human Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery in America” by Phillip Martin, “About 18,000 people are trafficked to the U.S. each year, according to the State Department. What do they have in common? Most are indebted to smugglers and traffickers. According to the Polaris Project, a national anti-human trafficking group, victims have also been pressed to work in factories, farms, strip clubs, begging and peddling rings and as domestic workers — for little or no money.“

Imagine coming to America, thinking that it’s the land of the free, where the streets are all paved with gold and all your dreams can come true, only to have your passport taken away and then be forced to work in the fields for 16 hours a day in the middle of nowhere so Americans can have cheap vegetables, or forced to service up to 30 men a day. Imagine being turned into a drug addict, dependent upon your captor for your next fix. Imagine being told if you try to get help, you will be killed and your family will never know what became of you. Imagine the shame, the pain, the fear, and the complete feeling of helplessness.

Human trafficking in the US is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. This is a world wide problem. Everyone should educate themselves on this topic. How to recognize it. How to stop it. How to prevent it. How to help. In addition to the Polaris Project mentioned above I urge you to go to Youtube and type in trafficking and you’ll be presented with a whole host of really good documentaries, both short and long, on the topic.

Here’s one that is less than 2 minutes long, and it will really make you think. It takes place in Amsterdam, in the red light district, and it renders a bunch of tourists, who think that place is all fun and games, speechless. It’s called Girls Going Wild in Red Light District. It’s a must see. Watch it until the very end to get the full message.

The Immigration Issue in Reverse

Yesterday I wrote about the many circles of hell the average woman on this planet has to pass through. Believe me, this is not the first time I’ve contemplated this topic, and at one point I was doing well enough to consider trying to help.

It’s the personal stories that get to me the most. Women with dreams and aspirations but no hope because they aren’t allowed an education. Young girls promised in marriage to men that they do not want. Women whose spirits are crushed when they discover that that overseas job that they took to help their families is actually a sex trafficking racket, and they are now trapped in a web of violence. Grown women who are not allowed to leave the house without permission or an escort.

A few years ago I had a steady job, and a house, and this nice clean guest room that was empty the majority of the time. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could save just one of these women, give them a future where they had choices and opportunities and all the options that I take for granted?”

I got excited, thinking about filling my guest room with life and hope and possibilities. She could learn English, go to school, get a job, and then stand on her own two feet, free to marry or not, have children or not, go anywhere, or not.

Sadly, how would I find a woman like this? She probably wouldn’t be able to speak freely, and the men in her life probably wouldn’t let her go willingly. Perhaps a refugee camp would be the place to look.

But after doing quite a lot of research on the Department of State website, it became distressingly clear that it would be nearly impossible to sponsor someone. It either has to be a family member, someone you marry, someone you’re going to adopt, or someone you’re going to employ. There are also diversity visas for countries with low immigration to the US, but the applicant must have a high school diploma and two years of work experience, among other things, and that doesn’t fit the profile of the type of woman I had in mind.

We complain about illegal immigration quite a lot in this country, but imagine desperately trying to get in and knowing you’ll never be able to. The system is against these women, both on her end and on mine. And it’s a moot point now, I suppose, because I no longer have the house, the guestroom, or the financial ability to help someone other than myself.

But sometimes I imagine myself reaching out my hand across the water to one of these women, and she’s got her hand outstretched as well, but our fingertips remain mere inches away. So close. So damned close…


A Woman’s Fate is about Location, Location, Location

Once upon a time I owned my own home, and was actually surviving financially. Not rich. Never that. But I was doing okay. So I started thinking about women who were less fortunate than myself.

I’m very aware that the bulk of my good luck in life is based simply on the arbitrary fact that I happened to be born in the United States. This isn’t the only country where fortune shines on women, relatively speaking, but the odds are not in a woman’s favor in the vast majority of the world.

Here’s the gauntlet you have to run on this planet simply due to estrogen:

  • In many countries, just by being female, your odds of even being born (or if you are born, not being abandoned), are much smaller than your male counterparts. The insidious dowry system makes women a burden, not a gift. Gendercide is a very real phenomena in several countries.
  • But if you happen to make it past that horrifying hurdle and are actually alive to tell the tale, you then have to hope you’re in a country where they value education for women. According to UNESCO, 31 million girls of primary school age and 34 million girls of lower secondary age were not in school in 2011.
  • Then there’s the risk of being forced into a marriage that you may or may not want. According to UNICEF, 55% of the marriages in the world are arranged. In some countries it’s 90%. This is fine if you get a decent, responsible, loving person who has your best interests at heart, but as is often the case in these situations, the choice will not be up to you. At least, not entirely. According to PBS, in the next decade, 100 million girls will be married before the age of 18.
  • And then you have to run the gauntlet of violence. According to the World Health Organization:
    • 36 % of girls in the world have experienced child sexual abuse.
    • Somewhere between 100 million and 140 million females in the world have undergone some form of female genital mutilation/cutting.
    • Anywhere between 133 million and 275 million women are victims of domestic violence every year.
  • Sex trafficking statistics are, predictably, unreliable, but it’s estimated that 700,000 to two million women and girls are trafficked across international borders every year. That doesn’t include those who are forced into prostitution in their own countries.
  • Rape statistics are even less reliable, but contrary to popular belief, most rapes are perpetrated by someone who is known to the assailant. And then there’s the alarming trend of gang rape throughout the world.
  • And here’s a depressing fact. According to, in just ONE DAY, women spend 200 million hours simply collecting water for the survival of their families. Imagine what they could do for the world, what progress they could make, if they could spend those hours on other things!

So, yeah, I have quite a few blessings to count. Tomorrow I’ll write about my ham-handed attempt to increase the blessings of just one other woman.

Women in Nepal.

[image credit:]