The Mann Act

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedOct 6, 2021
7 minute read

If you followed R&B singer R. Kelly’s trial, you may be familiar with a federal law called the Mann Act. It was created in 1910 to combat sex trafficking. If you’re unfamiliar with this law, that’s OK. This legal guide provides a good overview of it. In this article, we delve a little bit into the statute’s history, how it has been modernized, and how it’s applied today. Use the table of contents to move around the article for specific information.

Table of Contents

What is the Mann Act?
Important Amendments to the Mann Act
Mann Act Charges, Punishments & Defenses
Enhancement for Repeat Offenders
You May Have to Forfeit Your Property
Mann Act Convictions Require Mandatory Restitution

Have You Been Charged with a Sex Crime? 

A sex crime conviction can follow you for the rest of your life. Whether you face Mann Act charges or another sex crime violation, your first step should be to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Set up a meeting with a member of our Criminal Defense Team to discuss the facts of your case, your legal rights and responsibilities, what your next steps are, and more. Call 303-688-0944 to make that appointment 24/7. 

What is the Mann Act?

Signed into law in 1910, the Mann Act made it illegal to take women and girls across state lines or out of the country for purposes of prostitution, debauchery, or other immoral practices.

While the Mann Act was created to protect women and girls from being sex trafficked, it also took aim at what was largely considered socially immoral behavior during the first half of the 20th Century.

For instance, the Mann Act could be used to prosecute interracial relationships and pre-marital sex.

Since it was enacted, Congress has amended the statute a number of times. For instance, portions of the law were modernized to focus less on legislating morality and more on protecting all people against illegal sexual activity.

Important Amendments to the Mann Act


Congress added protections for minors of both sexes, not just females.


Language including debauchery and immoral practices was replaced with “any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.”

Important Note:

The statute repeatedly mentions “sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.” The law notes that “sexual activity” includes the production of child pornography. § 2427


Later, in 1998, child pornography offenses were added to the Mann Act, and Congress added the “use of interstate facilities to transmit information about a minor.”

Mann Act Charges, Punishments & Defenses

Section 2421: Transportation generally

The first section of this law focuses on actually moving people across state lines or out of the country for illegal sex crimes.

The law states no one can attempt to or knowingly transport anyone for prostitution or criminal sex acts. Doing so brings a fine, up to ten years in prison, or both.

R. Kelly was convicted of four Transportation violations.

Section 2421A: Promotion or facilitation of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking

As noted in its name, this section covers promoting prostitution and sex trafficking. More specifically, section 2421A focuses on the use of computers and the Internet to promote or initiate prostitution and sex trafficking.

You do not have to actually promote or facilitate the crime to be charged under this section. You can be charged for conspiring to or attempting to do so. Any of these can result in up to 10 years in prison, fines, or both.

Aggravating Factor

The aggravated violation under this section of the law raises the possible prison sentence to up to 25 years.

If you promote or facilitate the prostitution of five or more people or act with such reckless disregard that your conduct will result in sex trafficking, prosecutors will likely tack on this aggravating factor to the charge.

Civil Damages

This section of the Mann Act allows victims to take the defendant to U.S. District Court to recover civil damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Affirmative Defense

Unlike some other sections of the Mann Act, this one has an affirmative defense. If you can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that promoting or facilitating prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction where you allegedly promoted or facilitated prostitution, then you may use that as an affirmative defense.

Now, using an affirmative defense can get a little tricky, especially if you’ve already expressed your innocence.

That’s because courts typically do not allow a defendant to use an affirmative defense if they’ve already claimed they’re innocent. To employ an affirmative defense, you’re saying, yes, you committed the crime, but you can justify why you did it. In this case, that justification would be prostitution was legal in the jurisdiction.

This is just another reason why you should not speak to police or other investigators until you have a lawyer.

Section 2422: Coercion and enticement

R. Kelly was also convicted of violating this section of the statute. Like others who coerce or entice someone into traveling across state lines or out of the country to engage in prostitution or other illegal sexual activity, Kelly is looking at up to 20 years in prison.

Also, if you use “the mail or any facility” of interstate or foreign commerce to coerce or entice a minor into prostitution or unlawful sexual activity you face up to life in prison and will serve a minimum of 10 years behind bars.

What “Any Facility” Means

Now, the Mann Act does not define the phrase “any facility.” However, we can look to the courts for guidance.

In United States v. Jordan Michael Drake, the defendant was convicted of violating two sections of the Mann Act. The defendant used email and text messaging to try to coerce and entice a minor into having sex with him. Turns out, the minor was an undercover agent.

In this particular case, the “facilities” were email and text messaging. Given email is sent by way of the Internet, it is reasonable to conclude that other forms of Internet communication could be considered a “facility,” too.

Section 2423: Transportation of minors

Transportation with Intent to Engage in Criminal Sexual Activity

The sentence for transporting a minor with the intent that the minor will engage in prostitution or any criminal sexual acts is 10 years to life in prison.

Travel with Intent to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct

If you’re found guilty of traveling to meet a minor with the intent to engage in an illicit sex act with him or her, a judge can sentence you to up to 30 years in prison.

Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct in Foreign Places

If you travel outside of the U.S. to take part in illicit sexual conduct with a minor, the prison term is up to 30 years.

What is Illicit Sexual Conduct?
The statute is very clear about illicit sexual conduct. It means:
  • a sexual act with someone who’s younger than 18
  • a commercial sex act with a person who is under 18 years old
  • the production of child pornography
Ancillary Offenses

Ancillary offenses are secondary offenses. That means, if you help arrange for or encourage a minor to travel for illegal sexual acts for your commercial or financial gain, you could go to prison for up to 30 years.

Attempt and Conspiracy

If you attempt to or conspire to violate any portion of section 2423: Transportation of Minors you could be charged and punished as if you actually carried out the crime.

Possible Defense

It is a defense if you can show by clear and convincing evidence that you reasonably believed the person with whom you engaged in a commercial sex act was 18 years old.

Section 2424 – Filing factual statement about alien individual

This section requires people must report to the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization within five days of becoming aware of an alien individual being kept for prostitution. Failing to alert the proper authorities about this could result in fines and 10 years in prison.

Because reporting could lead to self-incrimination, the statute provides protection for the person reporting the crime:

“…no information contained in the statement or any evidence which is directly or indirectly derived from such information may be used against any person making such statement in any criminal case, except a prosecution for perjury, giving a false statement or otherwise failing to comply with this section.”

Section 2425 – Using Interstate Facilities to Transmit Information About a Minor

Under this section of the Mann Act, you can be charged for using “the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce” to give out the personal information of someone younger than 16 with the intent to entice, offer, or solicit illegal sexual activity.

Personal information includes the young person’s:
  • name
  • address
  • telephone number
  • social security number
  • email address

This charge carries up to five years in prison and fines.

As noted earlier, the Mann Act does not define what a facility is or explain the phrase “any facility or means of interstate commerce.” Here are more examples of the use of facilities in Mann Act charges:

Phones and Cell Phones

In United States v. Giordana, 442 F.3d 30, the defendant was charged with violating of the Mann Act when he used a phone to transmit the name of two minors with the intent to entice, encourage, offer, and solicit illegal sexual activity with the children.

On appeal, the defendant argued he had not violated the Mann Act because the phone calls he made and received were within the same state. However, the appeals court found that in-state cell phones are part of a larger interstate network and therefore the defendant did violate the Mann Act.

The Internet

In United States v. Crain, the defendant used the Internet to send child pornography. He was charged with “using interstate facilities to transmit information about minors” in violation of the Mann Act.

Enhancement for Repeat Offenders

If you violate any portion of the Mann Act after you’ve already been convicted of a sex crime, the maximum potential prison term is three times the intended range. § 2426. Repeat offenders

The exception to this enhancement is if you are convicted of a federal sex crime against a minor and you already have other sex convictions involving minors. In that case, the prison sentence is life. 18 USCS § 3559

You May Have to Forfeit Your Property

If you’re convicted of Mann Act violations, the court must order you to surrender any property – real or personal – that was used or intended to be used to carry out the violation. Also, any real or personal property that you obtained directly or indirectly from the proceeds of the violation must also be turned over to the federal government.

Real property could be a house or plot of land. Personal property is anything that is moveable, like jewelry and cars, or intangible items, such as stocks and bank accounts.

The order to forfeit your property is in addition to any other sentence you may receive.

Mann Act Convictions Require Mandatory Restitution

In 2018, Congress added section 2429 which requires the court to order restitution for any Mann Act violations. That means, if you’re convicted you’ll owe the victim the full amount of their losses. Now, what does that actually mean?

In United States v. Mahoney, 2019, the court ordered the defendant to pay restitution to a victim in excess of $60,000 for their losses, including past and future medical expenses, such as mental health care.

In this particular case, the judge stated that “the full amount of the victim’s losses” is defined as “any costs incurred, or that are reasonably protected to be incurred in the future, by the victim as a proximate result of the offenses involving the victim,” including:
  • medical services relating to physical, psychiatric, or psychological care
  • physical and occupational therapy or rehabilitation
  • necessary transportation, temporary housing, and child care expenses
  • lost income
  • reasonable attorneys’ fees, as well as other costs incurred; and
  • any other relevant losses incurred by the victim

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are accused of violating any section of the Mann Act or another sex crime, you should consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney is versed in the law and your legal rights. From negotiating with prosecutors to building a strong defense for trial, your criminal defense attorney is your greatest ally when you’re accused of a sex crime.

Robinson & Henry’s Criminal Defense Team offers case assessments. Call 303-688-0944 to schedule yours or click here to set up the meeting online.

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