Atlanta Attack Exposes Dangerous Sexualization of Asian Women

The shootings in Georgia that killed eight people, including six Asian women, highlight the enduring "objectification, "fetishization" and "stereotyping of Asian women," experts and leaders in the Asian American community warn.

Police have arrested Robert Aaron Long, 21, in connection with the shootings, which took place at three separate massage parlors in and around Atlanta on Tuesday. With the majority of those killed being Asian women, the latest attacks raised fears the gunman could have targeted people of Asian descent.

The shootings remain under investigation but on Wednesday, law enforcement officials said Long told police that he has a sex addiction and wanted to eliminate the temptation.

Captain Jay Baker, a spokesman for Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, said at the time: "It's still early, but he does claim that it was not racially motivated."

Speaking to Newsweek, the executive director of the Council of Korean Americans (CKA), Abraham Kim, stated that some people "do not see this man's sexual addiction and his hate crime as necessarily disconnected from race. This attack was part of the objectification and stereotyping of Asian women which the perpetrator was in part lashing out against."

"Based on information released by authorities, some people are suggesting that these attacks were not racially motivated but driven by a sexual addiction and anger by the perpetrator. The perpetrator attacked these establishments because he was lashing out against these massage parlors that he frequented and where they happened to employ Asian women," he added.

Other public figures in the Asian American community have also spoken about the links between racism and the objectification and historic sexualization of Asian women.

Dr. Russell Jeung, a founding member of Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit group tracking hate crimes and other incidents involving members of the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community, said: "The fetishization and the objectification are clear. Women are attacked, 2.3 times more than men. Others perceive women as more vulnerable. So I think Asian women are doubly targeted," in an interview with Minnesota's KARE 11.

"It's not though that we're to blame for this victimization. It's not our fault that others fetishize and treat women as objects," Jeung added.

Commenting on the latest shootings, actress Gemma Chan warned: "Please pay attention to what is happening. This is the latest in a surge of horrific attacks on the Asian community. Racism and misogyny are not mutually exclusive. In fact, sexualised racial harassment and violence is something that many of us face regularly," in a post on Instagram.

"We need to stop the dehumanisation of Asians. We need to stop the scapegoating of Asians for Covid. We need to unite against all forms of hate," she added.

We reconnected with @StopAAPIHate founding member Dr. Russell Jeung today. Official final report came out yesterday, before the shooting #Atlanta. He says fetishization and objectification of Asian women may have a big role in the hate. @kare11 #BTN11

— Sharon Yoo (@SharonKARE11) March 17, 2021

Twitter user @cmliwagdixon wrote: "The hypersexualization of Asian women plays a HUGE part in the violence we face. I've been cornered on the street as men say 'me love you long time.' I've been offered money for a 'happy ending massage.' I've been hit on because I'm Asian and told it's a 'compliment.'"

The viral post has received over 234,000 likes since it was first shared Wednesday.

"Asian women are so often seen and treated as objects, as trophies and this very real problem is often seen as a punchline i.e. jokes about mail order brides, the portrayal of Asian women in Hollywood. And Asian women are murdered because of it," @cmliwagdixon wrote in a subsequent post, which received over 26,000 likes since it was shared.

Catherine Ceniza Choy, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, believes regarding the latest incidents as unrelated to racism is akin to denying the harassment and violence Asian women have faced in the U.S. for over 100 years.

"Saying that this violence is not racially motivated is part of a related history of the denial of racism in the Asian American experience," Choy told NBC News.

"Killing Asian American women to eliminate a man's temptation speaks to the history of the objectification of Asian and Asian American women as variations of the Asian temptress, the dragon ladies and the lotus blossoms, whose value is only in relation to men's fantasies and desires. This is horrifying. Stop fetishizing us," Choy added.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the non-profit group National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, told NBC News that such stereotypes fuel society's "misogynistic mentality about women."

The roots of these stereotypical beliefs about Asian women can be traced back to the 19th century, historian Ellen Wu, author of The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority, explains.

The hypersexualization of Asian women plays a HUGE part in the violence we face. I've been cornered on the street as men say "me love you long time." I've been offered money for a "happy ending massage." I've been hit on because I'm Asian and told it's a "compliment."

— Christine Liwag Dixon (@cmliwagdixon) March 17, 2021

America's Gold Rush era brought an increase in immigration, including people from China. A small number of these Chinese immigrants were women and they included sex workers.

Legislators tried to prohibit or regulate the entry into the country with policies such as the Page Act of 1875, which banned importing women "for the purpose of prostitution," according to Wu.

The investigation of the massage parlor shootings continues. "With information coming out piecemeal, I think the varying Asian American groups are interpreting differently the still fragmented data coming in from law enforcement during the early part of this investigation," CKA's Kim told Newsweek.

"With more time and facts, it will be clearer what were the driving causes. CKA and other Asian American community organizations will be watching closely. What is clear is that this attack has caused shock to the Asian American community and only increases fear within a community already experiencing great uneasiness," Kim added.

Hate crimes against Asians have been on the rise in the U.S. since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first reported in Wuhan, China.

Such crimes were reported to have increased by nearly 150 percent in 2020, compared with the previous year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

A day before the shootings in Georgia, Michelle Au, the state's first East Asian state senator, had issued a warning about racism against Asian Americans on the state Senate floor.

"Recognize that we need help, we need protection and we need people in power to stand up for us against hate," she said.

Atlanta Georgia shootings vigil Washington, D.C.
Activists seen at a vigil in response to the Atlanta massage parlor shootings on March 17, 2021 in the Chinatown area of Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images

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