Cover: Policing Sexuality: The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI, from Harvard University PressCover: Policing Sexuality in HARDCOVER

Policing Sexuality

The Mann Act and the Making of the FBI

Add to Cart

Product Details


$34.00 • £27.95 • €30.50

ISBN 9780674368118

Publication Date: 11/03/2014

Academic Trade

304 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

1 halftone


The White-Slave Traffic Act, commonly known as the Mann Act, was passed in the United States in 1910 and made it a felony to transport any ‘woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose’ across state lines. It was designed to fight a perceived growth of prostitution, especially the trafficking in of women from Europe to America. Pliley, drawing largely from the records of the Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Investigation, and then Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), examines the way these agencies used the expansion of their powers less to protect women and more to control sexuality according to their own conservative culture. Using case files, Pliley shows how ideas about women’s sexuality and the vagueness of the phrase ‘any immoral purpose’ were used to police sexual and moral boundaries. She illustrates how the law was more often employed by the FBI before World War II to prosecute unapproved premarital, extramarital, and interracial sexual relationships, than to prosecute human trafficking… A valuable contribution for those curious about the history of women, gender, and sexuality, as well as those interested in the role of policing and the FBI in the cultural and political history of the U.S. in the 20th century.—Jessica Moran, Library Journal

Policing Sexuality…is an insightful document about the history of government surveillance and control of sex and sexuality in the United States… Pliley’s intriguing and easy to read book is a brilliant resource for historians, researchers in the field of gender and sexuality and anyone who is interested in the legal and historical aspects of sex trafficking and state policies.—Nafiseh Sharifi, LSE Review of Books

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 Gage, author of The Day Wall Street Exploded

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, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Most Famous Man in America

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Jacket: The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, by Lindsay Chervinsky, from Harvard University Press

Why You Should Participate in an (Online) Book Club

Online book clubs can be a rewarding way to connect with readers, Lindsay Chervinsky discovered, when she was invited to join one to discuss her book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution. Since my book was published in April 2020, I’ve discovered that my work appeals to three main audiences. First, the general readers who are enthusiastic about history, attend virtual events, and tend to support local historic sites. Second, readers who are curious about our government institutions and the current political climate and are looking for answers about its origins. And third, history, social studies, and government teachers