The International Agreement for the Suppression of "White Slave Traffic" or The Mann Act (1910)


The early 20th century witnessed a significant international response to the burgeoning crisis of human trafficking, particularly the forced prostitution of women, with the establishment of the International Agreement for the Suppression of “White Slave Traffic.” This development was closely aligned with the enactment of the United States’ Mann Act in 1910, marking a pivotal moment in the global fight against human trafficking.


Background of the Agreement and the Mann Act

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Europe underwent significant social and economic changes, leading to heightened migration and increased vulnerability of women to exploitation. During this period, there was an escalation in the trafficking of women, who were often deceived with job offers and subsequently coerced into prostitution. This phenomenon was known as “white slave traffic,” reflecting the racial views of that time. Parallel to this, in the United States, the Mann Act was enacted, named after Congressman James Robert Mann. This law criminalized the interstate or international transportation of women and girls for prostitution, debauchery, or any other immoral purposes.


Formation of the Agreement and the Role of the Mann Act

Several European countries, along with the United States, responded to this crisis by formulating the International Agreement for the Suppression of “White Slave Traffic.” The agreement aimed to curb the menace of trafficking in women and children for prostitution. The Mann Act complemented this international effort by targeting domestic trafficking within the United States, prohibiting the transportation of individuals across state lines for immoral purposes, effectively extending the fight against trafficking beyond European borders.


Provisions, Impact, and Challenges

The International Agreement and the Mann Act laid the groundwork for legal measures against traffickers and the protection of victims. These measures included surveillance of transportation routes and the creation of legal frameworks for penalizing traffickers and protecting victims. However, both the agreement and the Mann Act had limitations. The narrow focus on European women and children overlooked other affected groups, and the Mann Act’s ambiguous language about “immorality” led to its misuse to criminalize even consensual sexual behavior between adults.



The International Agreement for the Suppression of “White Slave Traffic,” in conjunction with the Mann Act, represents significant early efforts in legislating against human trafficking. While limited in scope and influenced by contemporary racial and moral attitudes, their importance lies in their role as catalysts for legal and social change, setting a precedent for future actions against the exploitation of vulnerable populations in an increasingly connected world.