Policing Sexuality cover

Policing Sexuality: The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

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. (read more...)

I am very excited to announce the publication of my book through Harvard University Press. In it, I address the unintended consequences of the US government’s enforcement of its first national anti-sex trafficking law — the White Slave Traffic Act, commonly known as the Mann Act — in the early 20th century. In addition to being available for purchase at the Harvard UP website, you can also find it available at Amazon.com.


Jessica R. Pliley is an assistant professor of women’s and gender history at Texas State University in San Marcos and she holds a Ph.D. from the Ohio State University. Her book, Policing Sexuality: The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI, was published by Harvard University Press in the fall of 2014. It joins a body of work that asserts that sex trafficking has long been an issue for activists of various traditions, yet it encourages us to consider not only how reformers have organized to eradicate sex trafficking, but also how the policies they championed were ultimately implemented. The young FBI’s enforcement of the White Slave Traffic Act (the Mann Act) led to the growth of the FBI into a national law enforcement agency that policed sexuality in ways that upheld traditional ideals of the patriarchal family.

Additionally, she has authored an article exploring the feminist politics within the League of Nations Committee on the Trafficking of Women and Children in the Journal of Women’s History and has another article that examines how concerns about white slavery served to bolster some women’s rights advocates’ claims that women be included in the federal immigration service at the turn of the century published in the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

Lastly, Jessica Pliley is a co-editor with Robert Kramm and Harald Fischer-Tiné of a forthcoming anthology from Cambridge University Press entitled Global Anti-Vice Activism: Fighting Drink, Drugs, and ‘Immorality’. The book brings together scholars working on the history of anti-vice activism and initiatives throughout the world. The essays explore anti-vice activism from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth century. It focuses on attempts to regulate the body, noxious substances like alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, but also ‘immoral’ sexualities such as prostitution.


Assistant Professor
Department of History
Texas State University-San Marcos

Department of History
Texas State University-San Marcos
601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666