Document 22: Stanley W. Finch, The White Slave Traffic: Address Before the World's Purity Congress (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1912).


       The following three documents address the changing views of female sexuality after the turn of the century. They show how these changing views contributed to a diminishing focus on the state age-of-consent campaigns, although many of these campaigns extended until 1920. Historian Mary Odem contends that while many commentators began to argue that prostitution was due to female depravity, other reformers remained convinced that prostitutes had been tricked into a life of infamy by "white slavers."[18] The following pamphlet argued that many girls of good reputation were kidnapped, raped, and then forced into entering brothels. Although this article is similar to others about white slavery that appeared ten to fifteen years earlier, it calls for federal legislation against slavery and involuntary servitude, rather than arguing that raising the legal age of consent would allow for white slavers to be prosecuted.


Address by Stanley W. Finch, Chief of the Bureau of Investigation of the Department of Justice before World's Purity Congress, Louisville, Ky., May 7, 1912.

        The white slave traffic! What is it? Whom and what does it involve? Is it possible to suppress it, and if so how?

        It is a fact that there are now scattered throughout practically every section of the United States a vast number of men and women whose sole occupation consists in enticing, tricking, or coercing young women and girls into immoral lives and then either living directly off of their illicit earnings or transferring them for a consideration to others for a similar purpose. Their business methods have been so far developed and perfected that they seem to be able to ensnare almost any woman or girl whom they select for the purpose. The great majority consists of young women and girls who have either been led to such lives by deception and trickery or who have been driven to them by force and fraud. The cleverly-worded advertisement for help is perhaps one of the most insidious and effective instruments which is or can be used. These traffickers are generally shrewd, careful observers of human nature, and they are quick to perceive and to single out girls who--while as yet honorable and virtuous--are inclined to be somewhat careless, and those who, through lack of or distaste for parental restraint, undertake to select their own companions, amusements, and occupations. Among such young women and girls the white slaver finds a limitless and fertile field for his awful trade. In this connection the theatre, the moving picture show, the cafe, the skating rink, and the dance hall,--while in themselves often useful and beneficial for education, entertainment, and exercise, become instruments which enable these conscienceless fiends to accomplish the downfall and eternal ruin of even the most innocent and virtuous of our young women and girls.

        Only a few months ago a young country girl, twenty years of age, while attending a moving picture show in this very city, met a woman whom she thought to be a friend, and who offered to secure domestic employment for her in a distant southern city. The young girl, herself innocent of any wrong, and unsuspicious, accepted the offer and, using the railroad ticket furnished her by her false friend, went to the address given, and not until she was imprisoned in that house and forcibly overpowered and ravished in the infamous effort to reduce her to that most awful slavery did this pure, brave-hearted girl realize that this woman here in Louisville was but the tool of a set of fiends to whom adequate punishment can never be administered by any of the processes of modern law. Through a fortunate chain of circumstances this young girl escaped the dreadful pit which is devouring thousands of other girls all over our land, but the awful business remains, a crying disgrace to our great country. Among the many other cases shown by our records is one involving a girl seventeen years of age, of good character, who lived in one of the smaller cities on Lake Michigan. This girl, while employed as a telephone operator, attended a dance where she met a young man of good appearance and apparently of good character. This young man was, however, a procurer for a house of ill repute in one of our large cities and while accompanying this young girl along the country road to her home, he forcibly ravished and subsequently placed her in a house of ill fame. This young man is now serving a term of five years in the penitentiary. The girl was rescued from the life of shame and returned to her parents. In another instance a girl of sixteen, while spending the afternoon at a seaside resort of one of our largest cities, was approached by two white slave procurers, who exhibited bogus police badges and pretended to place her under arrest as a truant. Supposing that they were acting under proper authority she made no outcry, and accompanied them to a street car going in the direction of her home. The facts as to the manner in which this girl was subsequently intimidated by these fiends, and, under threats of death, compelled to go with them to a room where she was ravished and subsequently placed on board a coastwise vessel and taken to a house of ill fame in another city and state, and there confined and compelled to receive foreigners and turn the earnings over to the master to whom she was sold by her captors, are almost unbelievable. However, these facts were clearly established in court during trial, as a result of which the defendants are now serving terms in the penitentiary. Another case which was recently prosecuted by our Bureau of Investigation involves a young girl who answered an advertisement which appeared in a leading paper in one of our largest Southern cities. Under a contract made pursuant to this advertisement this girl proceeded to a city in another Southern state for the purpose of complying with the terms of her contract of employment. She found, however, upon entering her place of employment, that, instead of being a respectable house, it was a house of ill fame. Upon attempting to leave the place, she was forcibly detained and every effort was made to induce her to practice prostitution. However, she refused to do so and finally, with the aid of one of the patrons of the place, she secured assistance and was thereby enabled to leave the place. The defendant in this case was promptly convicted and is now confined in the penitentiary.

        In very many places procurers endeavor, through promise of marriage or by actually going through the form of marriage, to obtain control of young women and girls, and finally force them into immoral lives. A case of this kind recently arose in one of the larger cities of the Middle West. In that case a girl seventeen years of age, and of a good character became acquainted in an apparently unobjectionable manner with a man who, like many of his kind, appeared, on the surface, to be of good character. After a brief courtship they were duly married and left on a wedding trip to a neighboring city, where the husband, claiming that he had lost his money and was unable to secure a position, attempted to persuade the young wife to engage in prostitution. She refused and was cruelly beaten by him. Apparently, however, even then she did not appreciate the nature of the creature to which she was married, and she went with him to one of our largest Eastern cities. There again he attempted to force her to engage in immoral practices, and upon her refusal she was beaten by him, food was withheld for days, and finally, when she had reached the point of exhaustion and was thoroughly intimidated, she was forced by her husband to receive foreigners whom he brought to her. By this means the girl was degraded to the point where her master was able to force her to solicit on the streets and finally she was transferred by her procurer, through a white slave agency in New York City, to a house of ill repute in the City of Washington, where she was when the facts as to the matter were developed by our Bureau. As a result of the prosecution in this case, the defendant was sentenced to five years in penitentiary at Atlanta, Georgia, where the manager of the agency through which she was sold is also confined. The girl was restored to her parents, and has since been living a respectable life. In another notorious case which occurred in one of our Southern cities, the defendant, who is now serving a term of three years in the Atlanta penitentiary, married a very a young girl--a mere child--and took her from place to place, arranging with cab drivers and keepers of assignation houses for meetings between his wife and other men, he taking the proceeds. The investigation in this case showed that he had previously married other girls and mistreated them in a similar manner. In another recent case which arose in one of our Eastern cities one of these white slavers, as a result of carefully laid plans, covering a considerable period, succeeded in separating a very young woman from her husband and under the pretext of procuring a divorce and of marrying her, led her into an immoral life and finally succeeded in compelling her to practice prostitution and turn over her earnings to him.

        There are a multitude of other cases in which young women and girls, from thirteen years of age and upwards, of good moral character, have, in a variety of ways, been led or driven, by deception, fraud, and force, into becoming victims of the white slave trade.

        If there is one thing above another which it seems to be difficult for people generally to understand, it is with regard to the manner in which these girls are led to continue in their immoral lives and to surrender their earnings to the white slavers after the physical restraint, to which they are at first subjected, is removed. In the first place it should be remembered that when these girls fall into the hands of procurers an attempt is made to debauch them; as speedily as possible, to such an extent that they themselves, as well as every one else, will feel that they are hopelessly lost and can never again be received by their families and friends, and that there is absolutely no chance for them to go back to their old modes of life. Many of these girls disappear in such a manner that their relatives and friends never know what has become of them. Their relatives some times fear the truth, but they hope against hope that they are mistaken, and when, after a while, they receive from the girl a communication--written at the dictation of her master--to the effect that she is engaged in some legitimate occupation and is happily situated, they are only too ready to believe that such is the case, and the girl herself no doubt, takes comfort in the thought that her relatives and friends know nothing of the depths of degradation to which she has been driven. These circumstances serve the procurer well. He makes it his business to obtain full information as to the relatives and friends of the girl, and knowing the real facts as to her life, and knowing that she feels that it would be better to perish in that life than to bring shame upon her mother or father or her other relatives or friends, he uses this knowledge as a club to force her to do his bidding. If at any time he sees a disposition on her part to leave him and to return home or to engage in some legitimate occupation, he threatens to tell her mother and her friends all about her and to represent to them that she has voluntarily engaged in the nefarious business into which he himself has driven her.

        These creatures also frequently represent to their poor slaves (whether truthfully or not it is not for me to say) that they "stand in" with the police authorities, and are able and ready at all times to protect them from arrest or to secure their release by furnishing bail or otherwise in case of arrest, provided they do their bidding. They also threaten to cause their arrest and imprisonment if these poor victims fail to do their bidding.

        These representations and others, which readily occur to these unscrupulous traffickers, who hesitate at nothing in order to hold their victims, usually serve to induce girls to at least postpone the time when they will change their mode of living, and often enable these men to control them without physical restraint, other than an occasional beating, after they have had possession of them for a few months.

        One of the principal representations that is made by these men to the girls, in order to continue to hold them under their control, is that they are saving the money for them in order that both, within a short time, may quit their improper mode of life and take up some legitimate line of business. The date when they are to take this step is, of course, put off from time to time, as necessity arises, in order to hold the services of the girl, and many false representations are made as to the manner in which the money is being saved, the whole purpose of the white slaver being to retain possession of the girl during the period of her greatest earning capacity and eventually to drop her or turn her over to some other trafficker when he finds it to his advantage, and opportunity arises, to procure a younger or more attractive girl for his use. Meanwhile the traffickers themselves take practically all of the earnings of their girl or girls, as the case may be--except that portion which is appropriated by the madam of the house in which the girl is located--and spend it for flashy clothes and in gambling and drinking, they in some cases spending a portion of their time in soliciting trade for their slaves.

        In most of our cities of any considerable size there are numerous restaurants and other places where these slavers congregate for the purpose of drinking, smoking and discussing their affairs. With them the girls are mere chattels, and are lightly spoken of by them as their "meal tickets" or their "stock," and deals are made between them for the exchange of girls or for the turning of them over to other traffickers. As for the girl herself, between the madam, who usually receives one half her earnings, and the men to whom she is generally required to turn over all of the rest, and by whom she is also held to a strict account and is frequently beaten and otherwise abused if her earnings are not sufficient to satisfy him, the poor girl is indeed in a miserable plight. No other form of slavery which has ever been devised can equal her condition.

        Hours and days might well be consumed in explaining the facts and conditions involved by this white slave traffic in the different sections of the country, but if it has been made clear that there is such a traffic, that it extends throughout our entire country, and that it involves conditions which are a disgrace to our nation it would seem that little else need be said regarding this phase of the matter, unless it be to add that it is estimated that not less than 25,000 young women and girls are annually procured for this traffic and that no less that 50,000 men and women are engaged in procuring and living on the earnings of these women and girls, and that the number of women and girls engaged in prostitution in this country at the present time is estimated at not less than 250,000.

        The white slave evil is one of a national character, which cannot be successfully dealt with by local authorities. This leads us to consider the facts as to the means available for its suppression. By the Constitution of the United States the Federal Government is given three i[m]portant powers which have a direct bearing upon this traffic[;]

        (a) By Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution Congress is given power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states."

        (b) By the same article and section it is given authority "to establish post offices and post roads."

        (c) By Section 1 of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution it is provided that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction," and by Section 2 of the same amendment it is provided that "Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." It is believed that by these provisions sufficient authority has been vested in the Federal Government to enable it, by enacting and enforcing appropriate legislation, to absolutely wipe out every vestage of this awful traffic.

        Having in mind its powers under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution, Congress enacted, June 25, 1910, what is known as the White Slave Traffic Law, by which the transporting or the persuading, enticing or coercing of women and girls to travel in interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of prostitution or for any other immoral purpose, is made a crime. It is of the highest importance that legislation be immediately enacted which will absolutely prohibit the use of the post office in procuring woman and girls (by advertisements or otherwise) and in directing their movements, not only from state to state, but also from one place to another in the same state, and in soliciting and receiving earnings from victims of white slavers.

        With reference to the slavery clause of the Constitution, it will perhaps be somewhat surprising to learn that there is no Federal law which makes it a crime for one person to hold another in slavery or involuntary servitude, unless such person has been, in the first instance, kidnapped or carried away or bought or sold; and although our investigations have, in numerous cases, developed the fact that young women and girls have been actually deprived of their liberty and held in involuntary servitude of the vilest kind (they having had their street clothes taken away from them--in many cases having been confined by barred windows and locked doors, and also having been deprived of their liberty by drugs, threats of violence, and by actual personal violence) there seems to be no statute under which persons so holding them in slavery can be punished by the Federal Government. It is believed that under the circumstances a most rigid law should be enacted under this clause of the Constitution.

        There are a number of other matters which it might also be well to cover in order to fully provide for the suppression of the white slave traffic.

        1. There should be an act of Congress authorizing a woman to testify in such case against her husband. This is particularly essential for the reason that, as has already been stated, it is a common practice for procurers to marry their intended victims, and it is frequently impossible to secure a conviction without the use of the testimony of the woman or girl involved.

        2. Provision should be made by law for the issuance of search warrants by any United States court or United States commissioner or justice of the peace or other similar official on behalf of the United States, such warrants to authorize United States marshals and deputy marshals, and agents of the Department of Justice specially designated by the Attorney General for the purpose, to search any place where there is probable cause to believe that any person is detained or held in violation of law.

        3. The law should also authorize the arrest, without warrant, by the persons heretofore mentioned, of any one detected in the act of violating any such statute.

        4. In order to assure prompt trials and substantial, swift and certain punishment in such cases, the law should also provide for the advancement of such cases, and their trial without delay, upon request of the Attorney General. It should also fix, with exactness the minimum penalty in such cases and require judges to promptly impose and cause the execution of sentences and prohibit the suspension of sentences by the courts.

        While it was believed that steps should be taken for the absolute suppression of the white slave traffic, in so far as it was possible to do so under existing law, and while it was felt that the circumstances justified the appropriation of a very substantial sum for the purpose, in order to avoid the appearance of extravagance, and since it was thought that a comparatively small sum might be quickly secured, whereas there might be considerable delay if a large appropriation were requested, the Attorney General called upon Congress for an appropriation of $25,000 for the purpose of defraying such expenses for the remainder of the fiscal year, ending June 30, 1912, and also requested that his general appropriation for detection and prosecution of crimes for the fiscal year, ending June 30, 1913, be increased in the sum of $50,000 over the appropriation for the present fiscal year in order to provide funds for work in white slave cases during the coming year. The urgency of this matter has been called to the attention of the proper government officials and committees of Congress both by the Attorney General and by individuals and philanthropic societies in almost every part of the country, all of whom have urged the immediate appropriation of adequate funds for this purpose. While--perhaps through some misunderstanding as to the real situation--there has been an unfortunate delay in securing additional funds, and consequently the work of the Department in attempting to suppress the white slave traffic has been temporarily crippled, I am glad to be able to say that we now have reason to believe that Congress will in due season appropriate the full amount which the Department has requested for this purpose for the coming fiscal year, and that there is also a disposition on the part of Members of Congress, with but few, if any, exceptions, to provide whatever additional funds may be necessary to expunge this disgraceful blot of white slavery from the map of our beloved country, and to enable our country to take a stand before the nations of the world which will, at no very distant day, result in sweeping this monstrous evil from the face of the earth.

        It is believed that when the people of this country begin to appreciate the enormous extent and the terrible nature of this great evil, there will be no disposition on their part to temporize with it, but that they will demand not only that funds be appropriated sufficient to adequately enforce the present law, but also that the law be so extended and strengthened that it will [e]nable the Federal Government to wipe out this evil for all time.

       This leaflet supplied at 35c. per 100, prepaid by the International Reform Bureau, 206 Pa. Av., S.E. Washington, D.C. $2.00 per 1000, collect. Y.W.C.A. and other societies for safeguarding women and girls should distribute it widely.


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