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Just before noon on a Thursday, a police cruiser sits on the corner of 40th Road and Prince Street in Flushing, New York, with its lights whirling. A few paces up 40th, sandwiched among a barber shop, a dumpling restaurant, and a travel agency, is a narrow stairway that leads to an Asian day spa and body work business. Dark and humid inside, a man is getting a foot rub as he leans back in his chair. It was on this small strip where Song Yang, a Chinese immigrant, fell off a balcony and died while trying to get away from police during a prostitution sting in On March 16, a gunman killed eight people at three Asian massage businesses in the Atlanta-metropolitan area.
Seven of the victims were women; six were Asian. There is a call from many in the Asian American Pacific Islanders community to declare these actions as a hate crime, however investigators have not yet made an official determination. There is no evidence that the women who were killed—at least two of whom were licensed massage therapists—were actually sex workers. In fact, most massage businesses in America are not illicit, yet the recent massacre, which has sparked protests against anti-Asian racism and in support of sex workers, has forced Americans to recognize that the intersection of racism, sexism and classism often converge.
And women, particularly immigrant women of color, must often take low-paying and dangerous jobs as they build a new life for themselves and their families.
The erotic massage economy has become ubiquitous in American culture and touches every socio-economic stratum. Along with 24 other men, Kraft was charged for soliciting prostitution. He pleaded not guilty, but issued a public apology. The charges were dropped last fall.
In , the Polaris Project estimated that there were at least 9, illicit massage parlors in America where customers can pay extra for manual relief, oral sex, or intercourse. Offering sexual extras during a massage can be the difference between making ends meet, or not. Out of more than 1, clients—mostly undocumented women who have emigrated from Asia—Hsieh says that 1 out of 5 says they have been trafficked or have experienced some level of coercion.