Donations to Asian Sex Worker Groups Skyrocket in Wake of Atlanta Shootings

They’re calling to decriminalize sex work following the deadly mass shooting that took eight lives, including six Asian women.
After dropping off flowers, people stand in support of the Asian and Hispanic community outside Young's Asian Massage Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Acworth, Ga. (Curtis Compton /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
After dropping off flowers, people stand in support of the Asian and Hispanic community outside Young's Asian Massage Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Acworth, Ga. (Curtis Compton /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) 

An organization that supports sex workers has received more donations in the several days since the Atlanta shooting than it has since it was established 19 years ago.

SWAN Vancouver is only one organization to experience a surge in private donations following Tuesday’s shootings, which targeted massage parlours and resulted in the deaths of eight people, including six Asian women.  

Advocacy group Red Canary Song said it’s received “well over” four times the number of private donations sent to them last year, and Butterfly, a Toronto-based advocacy group for Asian and migrant sex workers, received more than 800 donations on Wednesday alone totaling more than $35,000, the organization’s executive director, Elene Lam, said. 


Atlanta Shooting Shows How Police Are Failing Asian Women

Money donated to sex worker-led organizations goes toward legal advocacy for migrants and BIPOC and trans sex workers, as well as outreach work, COVID-19 financial relief, and education campaigns, among others. Some money will be funneled to Atlanta-based organizations to support victims’ families and survivors. 

“Anytime there is a sex worker issue, specifically with murdering Black trans women or anything that has to do with killings and murders, we post (about it) and people send the flurry of donations,” said Zola Bruce, a communications specialist with the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project. 

The latest horrific event has raised widespread awareness around anti-Asian racism, sexism, and whorephobia, advocates say, but the shootings in the Atlanta area—and the response to them—underscore, yet again, that financial support, largely from private donations and grassroots organizations, needs to be met with decriminalization of sex work and easier pathways to status for migrants. 

There needs to be less policing of sex work and migrants, too, they say.

Since the shooting, police departments across the country have vowed to deploy more cops to stem the wave of anti-Asian violence sweeping the U.S. Red Canary Song, founded after the death of Yang Song, a New York City massage parlor worker and Chinese migrant who died after she fell four stories during a police raid, said in a statement Thursday it understands the demand for increased policing but can’t support it. 


“Policing has never kept sex workers or massage workers or immigrants safe. The criminalization and demonization of sex work has hurt and killed countless people—many at the hands of police both directly and indirectly,” Red Canary Song wrote. Dozens of groups—sex worker organizations, racial justice groups, and LGBTQ rights organizations—signed onto the statement.

One way to limit policing and safeguard massage workers is to move away from a police-led anti-trafficking response, said Kate D’Adamo, a sex worker organizer with Reframe Health and Justice Consulting. Police often use “anti-trafficking raids” as an excuse to clamp down on sex work and shut businesses down, sex workers told VICE News last year. 

Lam linked immigration and sex worker rights, and said more needs to be done to help those with precarious immigration status. Immigrating to the U.S. or Canada with the intention of engaging in sex work is illegal, so law enforcement agencies often zero in on migrant sex workers. 

“We are calling for status for all to decrease vulnerability,” Lam said. 

Finally, people need to be cognizant that criminalization causes harmful misconceptions about sex work. Sex work is inherently consensual and “it’s really disturbing we have to consistently find ways to defend’s not a crime to work,” Bruce said.


Sex workers offer countless services, something that many people take for granted. Online sex workers have supported people struggling with isolation during the pandemic, for example. “We need to... expand [public] understandings of sex,” Bruce said. 

It’s not clear whether any of the victims who died at the three massage parlors were sex workers, and it shouldn’t matter, Bruce said. “They were killed while they were working; people are not seeing sex work as work,” Bruce said.

The victims from Tuesday’s shooting include Yong Ae Yue, 63, Suncha Kim, 69, Hyun Jung Grant, 51, Soon Chung Park, 74, Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, Paul Andre Michels, 54, and Daoyou Feng, 44. Xiaojie Tan, the owner of Young’s Asian Massage, was also killed. On the cusp of turning 50, Tan has been described by her loved ones as business-savvy and family-oriented; she dreamed of traveling around the world. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, was also injured in the attacks.

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