Vancouver proponents say more needs to be done to protect Asian women engaged in sex work after a gunman killed eight people in massage parlors in the Atlanta area on Tuesday.

The shootings came amid a recent wave of attacks against Asian Americans that coincided with the spread of the coronavirus in Canada and the United States.

Vancouver women’s advocates said the shooting was just one example of how racism and misogyny lead to violence against sex workers after six of the victims were identified as Asian and seven women.

“We are outraged and deeply broken by the Atlanta massacre,” said Alison Clancey, executive director of SWAN Vancouver, a nonprofit that provides support for immigrant sex workers and migrants. “Unfortunately, this kind of violence is not new to us at SWAN.”

According to Alison Clancey, managing director of SWAN Vancouver, immigrants in particular are afraid to speak up if they are exposed to violence as sex workers because they are afraid of deportation. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

Many of the women who seek support from SWAN are Chinese. Clancey says it is not easy for Asian sex workers to report the violence they are experiencing to the Vancouver police.

“There are always only two results. The first is that the woman herself is the target of an investigation into the fight against human trafficking or prostitution. Or she is arrested, imprisoned and deported for violating immigration regulations.”

Suzanne Jay, a member of Asian Women for Equality, a grassroots feminist organization, says unfortunately it often takes widespread murders to recognize the violence Asian women face in prostitution.

“Prostitution is an industry where Asian women are marketed and branded. It is a real investment in making racism cheaper and increasing sexism,” she said.

Asian Women for Equality is a grassroots feminist organization whose members believe that all prostitution is a form of sexual exploitation and a campaign to end prostitution. (Submitted by Asian Women for Equality)

According to Jay, Asian women are over-represented in prostitution, especially in retail stores like massage parlors. Her group believes that all prostitution is a form of sexual exploitation and campaigns to end prostitution.

She says prostitution reinforces harmful stereotypes about Asian women by overly sexualizing them.

“Men are trained by the prostitution industry. They are encouraged and allowed to orgasm on inequality,” said Jay. “This has an impact on Asian women who deal with these men, whether they are their brother, boyfriend, co-worker, teacher or boss.”

Canadian law criminalizes sex buyers

SWAN takes the opposite approach, saying that prostitution should be further decriminalized so that women, like any other industry, are protected by labor laws.

“If we could just get it public and recognize it as a sector of work that needs protections and laws like everyone else, I think that’s the only hopeful thing that could make a difference,” Clancey said.

Current Canadian legislation on immigration, prostitution and human trafficking criminalizes Asian women in sex trafficking and needs to change, according to Clancey.

Bill C-36, Canada’s Prostitution Act, passed in 2015, is based on a Swedish law from 1999 that essentially criminalized buying sex but decriminalized its sale.

According to Jay, Canadian legislation actually protects women in prostitution by decriminalizing them. The real problem is that the police are not enforcing the law and arresting underpants and pimps.

“”[The law] recognizes that women who find themselves in prostitution are usually there because of inequality, racism, sexism and poverty [and that] is what pushes them and makes them vulnerable to pimps and men trying to buy them. “

Both Clancey and Jay say current immigration laws prevent many women from reporting violence for fear of being deported. Jay believes that one of the easiest ways to protect migrants is to have the federal government grant them land status once they arrive in Canada.