Human trafficking crimes are covered extensively in the news, featured in movies, and legislated on―almost always―with unanimous bipartisan support to combat the scourge.
However, most Americans don’t realize this topic has been secondarily exploited by various actors for over a century.
The concept of sex trafficking was first introduced to the world in July 1885. The Pall Mall Gazette published a four-part exposé written by W.T. Stead entitled “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon,” which detailed the trafficking of children in the commercial sex industry in London.
The article gained international media attention and resulted in legislative change around the world. For example, the United States began by legislating change to laws regarding age of consent, followed by passing the Mann Act, also known as the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910.
At that time, sex trafficking was referred to as “White Slavery” and as the term connotes, the legal application was racialized. American efforts to combat trafficking were initially used to support segregation practices and anti-miscegenation laws.
For example, one of the earliest notable sex trafficking prosecutions was of heavyweight champion African-American boxer Jack Johnson. The charges against Johnson were levied because he married a white woman and allegedly distributed pro-miscegenation material such as “Love Knows No Race” and “My Affair with a Golden Brown Man.”
While Johnson was granted a posthumous pardon by President Trump in 2018, he died with the stigma of being a convicted “sex trafficker.” And there were many more men erroneously criminalized for the color of their skin just like him, under the guise of combating sex tra ..
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