Debauchery is the unrestrained indulgence in decadence or what might be considered “sinful” behaviors. Examples of debauchery include sexual activity, drunkenness, or drug abuse. The term debauchery is used throughout the Bible, to describe what would today be considered “partying.” The act of debauchery involves someone engaging in “unholy” activities, and it typically refers to out-of-control behavior for the purpose of excessive pleasure. To explore this concept, consider the following debauchery definition.

Definition of Debauchery


  1. Unrestrained indulgence of the body, in sexual activity, and use of alcohol and/or drugs.
  2. Seduction from virtue or duty.


1585-95           Middle French debaucher

What is Debauchery

Debauchery refers to engaging in extreme forms of body-pleasing activity, generally considered to involve sex, alcohol, or drugs. A perfect example of debauchery is the kind of activities in which students may engage while attending a college party. They may drink and do drugs to excess, which lowers their inhibitions, and causes them to participate in sexual activities that they might otherwise refrain from. Another way to look at debauchery is that it is a person’s overindulgence in what could be considered “sinful” activities.

The White-Slave Traffic Act

The White-Slave Traffic Act, which is also referred to as the “Mann Act,” is a federal law that was passed in June of 2010. The Act, named for Illinois Congressman James Robert Mann, makes it a felony for women or girls to be transported for the purposes of prostitution, debauchery, or any other immoral purpose. The main goal of the White-Slave Traffic Act was to put a stop to prostitution and human trafficking, especially when that trafficking was being facilitated for the purpose of prostitution.

However, there was one major and unintended negative effect of the White-Slave Traffic Act, which came about because the Act was not clearly written. When it comes to what can be considered “immoral” behavior, the Act’s language is ambiguous at best. Therefore, when the Act has been put into practice in the past, those citing it had to come up with their own definitions of immorality. This has resulted in people being criminalized for engaging in consensual sexual relations between adults.

Congress has since amended the Mann Act twice, first in 1978, and again in 1986 to make the definition of “immoral” behavior more clear. Now, the Act clearly refers to the transport of any individual for the purposes of prostitution or other illegal sexual activities.

Debauchery Example Involving the White-Slave Traffic Act

The 1946 case of Cleveland v. United States was an important case that involved the White-Slave Traffic Act, and it was an example of debauchery not being tolerated at the federal level. Here, the Act was employed in order to determine whether or not women could travel across state lines in order to engage in practices that were dictated by their religion.

The individuals who were involved with this case were members of a fundamentalist sect of the Mormon religion (who had separated themselves from the Mormons), who practiced polygamy. Each of these people were criminally charged with transporting women across state lines for the purpose of entering into what are called “plural marriages” with them. Plural marriages, called “polygamy,” are marriages that exist between one man and more than one woman.

After a bench trial, all of these individuals were convicted for violating the Mann Act. They appealed to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, however their convictions were affirmed by the appellate court. They then took their case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, they struck out with the Supreme Court, which also affirmed their convictions. The Court held that the phrasing of the Act, specifically the phrase “for any other immoral purpose,” rightfully condemned the individuals for their actions. Polygamy has been considered, in the Court’s words, to be “historically unlawful,” and therefore the transportation of these women across state lines was immoral and illegal, even if it was done for religious purposes.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Bench Trial – A trial by a judge, without a jury.
  • Consensual – Relating to, or existing by, mutual consent.
  • Human Trafficking – The illegal practice of procuring or trading in human beings for the purpose of prostitution, forced labor, or other forms of exploitation.
  • Polygamy – The practice of having more than one wife (or husband) at the same time.
  • Prostitution – The practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money or other payment.