America’s first anti–sex trafficking law, the 1910 Mann Act, made it illegal to transport women over state lines for prostitution “or any other immoral purpose.” It was meant to protect women and girls from being seduced or sold into sexual slavery. But, as Jessica Pliley illustrates, its enforcement resulted more often in the policing of women’s sexual behavior, reflecting conservative attitudes toward women’s roles at home and their movements in public. By citing its mandate to halt illicit sexuality, the fledgling Bureau of Investigation gained entry not only into brothels but also into private bedrooms and justified its own expansion.
A few blurbs:In upholding the Mann Act, the FBI reinforced sexually conservative views of the chaste woman and the respectable husband and father. It built its national power and prestige by expanding its legal authority to police Americans’ sexuality and by marginalizing the very women it was charged to protect.
“A fascinating, first-rate study. Using a remarkable trove of documents in the Bureau of Investigation’s white slavery files, Pliley resurrects a lost history of conflicts over gender, sexuality, masculinity, disease, and deviance in the early twentieth-century United States.”—Beverly GageMore information is available here.
“A brilliant, counterintuitive history of the FBI that takes women from the margins—party girls and runaways, adventurers and adulterers, hardened hustlers and delinquent daughters—and shows how they were central to the rise of federal power in America. Written in crystal clear, jargon-free prose, and brimming with important insights, Policing Sexuality is a major contribution to the histories of sexuality and government surveillance, and will be required reading for anyone interested in the sex trade, past, present, or future.”—Debby Applegate