From White Slaves to Domestic Hostages
Buffalo Criminal Law Review, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1997) and to be presented at a symposium at the University of New York at Buffalo School of Law.
Posted: 26 Sep 1996
This paper will examine the legislative history of federal laws that target crimes against women and girls as a vehicle for exploring the manner in which federal criminal law (and, by implication, criminal law in general) responds to (and, perhaps, encourages) changing social norms. The particular legislative materials on which the paper focuses are those accompanying the Mann Act (1910) and the Violence Against Women Act (1994).Separated by almost a century, the subjects of these two laws appear to reflect different conceptions of the sexual dangers confronting women in our culture. The Mann Act was designed to protect women from the moral (and physical) ruination they suffer when coerced or tricked into a life of prostitution (or "white slavery"), while the Violence Against Women Act is intended to deliver women from the physical (and psychological) violence they endure when raped or battered. From the perspective of feminists situated in the late twentieth century, the legislative history of the Mann Act appears to endorse understandings about female sexuality that are sexist (as well as racist). By contrast, since feminists participated in lobbying for passage of the Violence Against Women Act, presumably they believe that this statute rests (at least in part) on feminist norms that break with the sexist assumptions of the past. The paper will examine the rhetoric employed in the legislative history of each of these statutes, particularly the ways of talking about sex and, more subtly, the ways of talking about talk about sex. Through such exploration, the paper will identify more precisely the sexual norms underlying each statute and the role (if any) the legislation may have played in shaping, as opposed to merely reflecting, those norms.
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