In this reported op-ed, Livia Caligor explores the impact of anti-Asian hate and sexual violence on the AAPI community, and how pervasive it remains.
Trigger warning: This story discusses anti-Asian violence and harassment in detail.
On February 13, Christina Lee was followed into her Chinatown apartment by a 25-year-old man. He stabbed her more than 40 times, killing her.
On May 11, a 36-year-old man targeted a hair salon in the heart of Dallas’ Koreatown. He fired approximately 13 shots, injuring three women. Authorities say the suspect was motivated by delusions about Asian people.
On March 16, 2021, a 21-year-old man who said he had a “sex addiction” went on a killing rampage, targeting three Asian-owned spas. First, he shot and killed four people – two of whom were Asian women – at Young’s Asian Massage in Cherokee County, Georgia. He then drove to Atlanta and killed three more Asian women at Gold Spa. He fatally shot another woman at Aromatherapy Spa across the street.
The pandemic provoked a nation-wide surge in anti-Asian violence, reportedly reaching 100 incidents per day in 2020. However, this mass hate epidemic — while increasingly violent and life-threatening — is nothing new for the AAPI community. Sexual violence, in particular, is all too familiar to Asian women, yet seems to barely register in the public consciousness. Though time has passed since anti-Asian violence was consistently in the news, we must still pay attention, because the impact is devastating and deadly.
Though this recent series of attacks galvanized public attention, mainstream media often contributes to the spread of white misogynist ideology by failing to investigate the ubiquity and complexities of anti-Asian hate crimes. In the case of the 2021 Atlanta shooting, for instance, many outlets repeated the police claim that the shooting was motivated by racism. Police made that claim because that’s what the shooter told them.
The subsequent debates over whether these instances are a result of sexism or racism were deeply disturbing. Racial and gender-based discrimination are not mutually exclusive, as they come together to form a deadly force. But writer and copy editor Mia Kim feels conversations that acknowledge this intersection are few.
“This is something affecting us every day, but I’m always so shocked when I talk to white people about what we’re experiencing and they don’t want to talk about it,” Kim says. “It’s like they don’t want to go there by saying these events could be racially and sexually motivated.”
Through historic xenophobia, imperialism, and prejudice, the West has created a reductive caricature of Asian women as sexually subservient, which serves as a vehicle for sexual oppression and violence.
The U.S. government has played an integral role in weaving hypersexualized stereotypes on a legislative level through federal enforcement since the 19th century. For instance, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — which is one of the few Asian-centric milestones taught in American history — was preceded by the Page Act of 1874, a little-known law that was specifically used to target Chinese women.