The events were also informed by class: These women, some of whom were working class, almost certainly died because they were at work. As working women of color, they existed at the terrible nexus of race, gender and class. It is, of course, often women who don’t speak English or are undocumented, who are locked out of traditional labor markets, or are otherwise marginalized.
Many have framed the Atlanta spa shootings as a hate crime against the Asian community. Hate crime is a legal designation that serves to justify more policing. Despite being seen as a candidate supporting decriminalization of sex work, the New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang took the occasion to call for more funding of the New York Police Department’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force. The Atlanta police deployed additional patrols across the city, as did the N.Y.P.D., despite the fact that the police are the sources of instability in the massage-parlor-worker community. The irony is, of course, that had the women in Atlanta not been killed, they would have probably run the risk of being arrested by the very same law enforcement officers.
It is the instinct of the living to commemorate the dead, to make their passing not be in vain. I, too, am vulnerable to such impulses, and so I end by saying Georgia reminds us — I hope — that anti-Asian violence is also anti-women violence, anti-poor violence, and anti-sex-work violence, that our fates are entwined, that fighting oppression means fighting oppression not just in one’s own narrowly defined community, but also everywhere.the first things I did upon learning about the shootings at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area was to check in with a former massage parlor worker I met in 2019. At the time, I was reporting an article about a prostitution raid at a Florida massage parlor.
Unable to work during the pandemic, she was home alone when we spoke; the news from Atlanta hadn’t reached her yet. “Too frightening,” she said, when I sent her an article about what had happened. Robert Aaron Long, 21, who has been charged with the murder of eight people in Atlanta and nearby Acworth, six of them Asian women, had been arrested on his way to Florida — where she was — and where he planned on killing more, according to what he told the police. She worried for her colleagues. “Do you think someone will kill them? Am I in danger too?”
I didn’t know how to respond, in part because I knew so little about those killed in Georgia: Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Yong Ae Yu, 63. (Daoyou Feng, 44, Xiaojie Tan, 49, Paul Andre Michels, 54, and Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, were victims identified earlier.) In some massage parlors, women, often Asian, may sometimes perform sexual services. But I did not know whether those who died this week would have identified themselves as sex workers.
I have spent the past few years researching the various ways sex work intersects with issues of race, class, and gender, routinely amazed by how it connects to such disparate issues as criminal justice, gentrification, poverty, immigration and trans rights. I have come to understand sex work rights as an overlooked civil rights issue that deserves study. I soon found myself placing the Atlanta killings within the context of a horrific history.
In 1974, a soldier, Park Estep, 25, was convicted of a crime against two women at the Suezy Oriental Massage Parlor near Fort Carson in Colorado. According to court documents, he slashed the throat of Yon Cha Ye Lee, 32, an employee at the parlor, and stabbed her in the back. He then raped 36-year-old Sun Ok Cousin, the spa’s owner, before shooting her in the right temple, killing her and then setting her on fire. In 1993, Kenneth Markle III, 20, a medic at a U.S. military base in South Korea, was convicted of murdering Yun Kum-i, a 26-year-old sex worker. Her sexually-abused corpse was found near the base.