The Asian American community is grieving. Recently, we witnessed the murder of eight people in Atlanta, six of whom were women of Asian descent. Within desperate cries to #StopAsianHate, there is a dark storm brewing. 

The recent attack connects to increased violence against Asian Americans in America.  There have been 3,800 hate crimes against Asian Americans between March 19, 2020 and Feb 28, 2021. 

A target is specifically on the backs of Asian women, who make up 68% of these reports. 

This shooting in Atlanta opens up a larger conversation about violence against Asian American sex workers.

The hate crime in Atlanta resulted from a white man viewing the six women as sexual objects. If they were not Asian, he probably wouldn’t have seen them that way. He wouldn’t have assumed they were sex workers. 

In 2017, Yang Song was killed when police raided the massage parlor she worked at. Song had attempted to report sexual assault against undercover officers within the massage parlor. 

Instead of receiving support and protection, the police targeted her. They crucified her for her involvement in sex work, ultimately leading to her tragic death. 

By continuing to criminalize sex work, we marginalize these women. We make them targets of further violence. 

Many sex workers are also immigrants. There is a hatred towards sex workers and immigrants on top of being Asian and being women. We need to recognize the intersectionality of the hate in this crime. 

The History of Discrimination Against Asian Sex Workers in America

Dr. Lily Wong’s recent book traces the history of how Chinese sex workers have been represented through history.

There is a horribly long history of sexual and physical violence against Asian American women. It has roots in American history dating back to the Page Act of 1875. 

This law systematically prevented Chinese women from immigrating to the U.S. under the assumption they were prostitutes. 

During the Philippine-American War, WWII and the Vietnam War, American service members had a history of encouraging sex trafficking, perpetuating the exotic Asian fetish. 

This characterizes migrant Asian women as cheap, disposable and sexual toys for Western men. Further, it excuses the violence against Asian women by trivializing and normalizing it. 

Why Sex Workers Need Our Protection, Now More Than Ever

After these attacks, it is clear that we need to actively protect women within the AAPI community. And especially those in marginalized positions. 

These victims died because of the assumption that Asian women are sex workers. Even if they weren't, the attacker’s sexist motives make the attack a sex work  issue. He saw these women as sex workers and murdered them for it. 

In her NPR interview, Yves Nguyen of Red Canary Song says sex work is minimized in the context of these attacks.

People are quick to correct news sources that these women were not involved in  sex work. Their dismissal shows the shame connected to sex work in the Asian community. 

Red Canary Song is a group of Asian migrant sex workers and their allies who work to decriminalize sex work. Nguyen along with her team has had many conversations with migrant sex workers. 

She says in her the interview that they “want to have protection. They're a part of the community. They want to be able to do their jobs safely.”

The Women behind Red Canary Song Organization 

By avoiding talking about sex work, we exclude sex workers from the AAPI community. But they need our support and inclusion now more than ever. 

Instead of criminalizing sex work, we should understand its history. Sex work  became an option for people when other ways of life became barred from them. Criminalizing sex work strips them of work and forces them into dangerous environments. 

We need to change our perspective on Asian massage-parlors and sex workers. We need to empower them with rights, protection and dignity. We need to be having conversations with them on how we can best support them. 

Watch this documentary and consider donating to Stop Asian Hate or Red Canary Song. Now is the time to take steps to protect all members of the AAPI community. 

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Emma Federer

Emma Federer is a wacky screenwriter that uses her voice to celebrate of all things Asian: from C-pop to female stand-ups to the heart-warming experiences of queer Asian Americans.
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