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US massage killings reflect anti-Asian hate crime spike, activists say

This month’s murders of eight people in massage businesses in the US state of Georgia are rooted in increasing violence against Asian people, according to sex worker advocates.

Six of the shooting victims at a string of massage parlours on 16 March were Asian women. 

They included owners, managers, and employees, BBC News has reported.

‘A cruel and disturbing trend’

“Such killings have wide-ranging psychological consequences that extend broadly to Asian and Asian-American communities,” said a representative of the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center. 

“This attack follows a cruel and disturbing trend of increased violence targeting Asian people in the US. 

“Within 16 of the United States’ most populous cities, there was a 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020.” 

The group condemned racial violence, saying such acts are “rooted in this country’s shameful legacy of genocide against Indigenous communities and racist white supremacist systems”. 

Clement Lee, Esq., Associate Director of Immigration Legal Services, said that the workers deserved “safety, peace, and understanding”. 

“We continue to offer our support and compassion to our Asian and Asian-American clients, staff, and community who feel the sadness we do today,” said Lee. 

“The victims of this violence didn’t deserve to be humiliated, hurt, or killed during an ordinary day of work because of what they looked like, where they were from, or how they earned a living.” 

No hate crime charges

Robert Aaron Long, 21, has been arrested over the killings.

Although the shootings have been widely described as racist attacks, Long has not been charged with a hate crime.

The Sex Workers Project is one of many organisations worldwide fighting for the decriminalisation of sex work and an end to stigma.

“We provide immigration legal services as part of our broader work to end the criminalization and stigmatisation of adult consensual sex work, and to create a world in which all workers are free from all forms of exploitation, including human trafficking,” said a representative. 

“No matter the circumstances of the victims’ employment, as more information becomes available, we implore media outlets, legislators, and the public to respect the dignity and choices of the victims.”

‘A different approach’ for New York

Elsewhere in the US, New York may change its sex work laws, with one bill proposed that would decriminalise it and another that would introduce new criminalisation under the Nordic model.

“Of course I don’t want to see arrests for [sex work] anymore. I want us to move to a different approach,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month.

In February, Governor Andrew Cuomo repealed a law prohibiting “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” that had been used to target trans women and women of colour.

The Sex Workers Project opposes the Nordic model, which it has said causes harm by disproportionately policing minorities and conflating sex work with trafficking.

“The Nordic model is an attack on transgender women and undocumented migrants who rely on the sex trades because of enormous barriers to employment in the formal economies,” said the organisation in a statement. 

“It is also an attack on sexual freedom and liberation, with its proponents believing they know what is best for other women while blatantly ignoring the realities of men, non-binary people, and people of all other genders in the sex trades.

“We must collectively, as sex workers, survivors of human trafficking, and our true allies, hold the proponents of the Nordic, end demand, or ‘equality’ model accountable for the lifelong harms their actions cause.” 

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