What is the Mann act? How Matt Gaetz could face charges under human trafficking laws amid FBI teen sex case

Matt Gaetz is under investigation of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. Here's how he could be facing charges in the ongoing investigation, if found guilty

                            What is the Mann act? How Matt Gaetz could face charges under human trafficking laws amid FBI teen sex case
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power in the Rayburn House office Building, July 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Gett

Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz has landed himself in trouble after it was reported that he allegedly had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. The New York Times reported an inquiry has been initiated to find out whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws by paying the teen girl to travel with him.

Meanwhile, Gaetz vehemently denied all the accusations that have been leveled against him and said some people at the Department of Justice are “trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy.”

The NYT also reported that the entire episode took place in 2019. 


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Interestingly, just hours prior to the shocking exposé by New York Times, Axios reported that Gaetz was considering leaving Congress early to pursue a career in media at Newsmax.

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) arrives for a House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing with members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee on Capitol Hill on December 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. The U.S. Army has fired or suspended 14 leaders at Fort Hood following an investigation into the death of Specialist Vanessa Guillén and numerous other deaths and reports of sexual abuse on the military base. (Getty Images)

However, if the investigation is able to find that Gaetz indeed paid the teen girl for traveling with him, then he might have broken the federal sex-trafficking laws in doing so. But, what are the sex-trafficking laws, and how Matt Gaetz could have violated them? Let’s dig a little deeper and learn about the special act that was passed in the year 1910.

What is the ‘Mann Act’ and why was it passed?

Named after Illinois Congressman James Robert Mann, ‘The Mann Act’ made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of “any women or girl for the purpose of debauchery or prostitution, or for any other immoral purpose.” The primary intent of the ‘Mann Act’ was to address immorality, prostitution, and human trafficking, especially where trafficking was for the purpose of prostitution.

The act was also used to punish men “who had sexual relations with underage girls, those who had premarital sex, adulterers, and polygamists and homosexuals, as well as cases involving the abduction of women.” All the violations were charged as felonies. On the other hand, if a woman had consented to the relationship, she could also be charged as accessories to the crime.

Protest against Human Trafficking (Getty Images)

After a lot of studies, the first legislative change in the act came in 1978, when Congress decided to update the definition of “transportation.” Congress added protection against commercial sexual exploitation for minors.

Another amendment came in the year 1986 which further strengthened the law and added protection for adult males. The amendment also helped in removing the blurriness of the original language with “any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense."

It also focused on criminalizing various aspects of child pornography.

Charges and Penalties under the ‘Mann Act’ 

There are a lot of ways that a person can be charged under the Mann Act. However, a person involved in the “transportation of an individual for the purposes of prostitution or any sexual activity that may be charged as a crime” can be charged with a federal offense under the particular act.

The offenders might be sentenced to a fine and/or up-to 10 years in prison.

People who have been convicted under the act

American boxer Jack Johnson became the first notable personality to be prosecuted under the Mann Act in 1912. In 1962, iconic singer-songwriter Chuck Berry was sentenced to three years in prison for offenses under the Mann Act when he had transported a girl, age 14, across state lines. 

American singer and songwriter Chuck Berry (1926 - 2017) in London, UK, 28th May 1964. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Meanwhile, Charlie Chaplin is the only person to get acquitted of all charges under the act. Chaplin met Joan Berry in 1941. He signed her to a $75-a-week contract for a film he was putting together, and she became his mistress. By mid-1942, Chaplin let her contract expire. To send her home, Chaplin paid her train fare to New York which led to his arrest. However, he was later acquitted. 

Portrait of a very young Charles Chaplin (1889 - 1977), before he began to make his world famous films. (Getty Images)


If Gaetz is found guilty, then he might have to pay a hefty fine or go to prison for violating the ‘Mann Act’. It will be important to hear what does the 17-year-old girl has to say about the entire episode.

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