Solidarity with Massage Parlor Workers Means Ending Police Raids and Patrols in the CID

(The statement below is reprinted from Chinatown/International District Coalition. Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade is one of the four organizations partnered to form the Massage Parlor Outreach Project.)

SOLIDARITY WITH MASSAGE PARLOR WORKERS MEANS ENDING POLICE RAIDS AND PATROLS IN THE CID

A JOINT STATEMENT + CALL TO ACTION FROM THE MASSAGE PARLOR OUTREACH PROJECT 女工互助小组 AND CID COALITION

The Massage Parlor Outreach Project (MPOP) and Chinatown-International District (CID) Coalition are horrified by the recent shootings that have taken place in Atlanta and disgusted by the long history of misogyny and exploitative racism they represent. We extend our condolences to the families of Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Tan Xiaojie, Feng Daoyou, Park Soon Chung, Kim Hyun Jung Grant, Kim Sun Cha, and Yoo Yong Ae. To the sole survivor Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, who remains hospitalized with injuries, we pray for his health and send our wishes to his family.

Within hours of the news of this targeted massacre, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief of Police Adrian Diaz publicly pledged to increase police patrols in the CID and conduct outreach to Asian American and community-based organizations. Yet, for those in our community most affected by anti-Asian violence of the kind seen recently, increased policing only compounds the danger in their lives. And to date, grassroots groups who have built deep relationships with Asian migrant women working in CID massage parlors over many years have not been contacted by the Mayor’s office. Instead, Mayor Durkan and other local electeds made plans to interrupt a community vigil scheduled for Monday, March 22nd for the victims in Atlanta with a press conference of their own — an empty gesture and publicity act that appropriates and demeans community self-organizing.

Had the City bothered to conduct any meaningful community outreach, instead of scrambling to pull together a photo op, they would have learned that increased police presence does not prevent violence against Asians and Asian Americans. On the contrary, policing and surveillance harm the very people the Mayor and SPD now claim concern for.

Two years ago, Seattle Police raided 11 massage parlors, supposedly “rescuing” 26 Chinese women from so-called “sex trafficking operations.” In reality, the owners of these parlors were charged with promoting prostitution, not human trafficking. And the women who had been “rescued” were simply displaced. They lost both their means of living and their housing, as housing was connected to their workplace. Many had their meager cash savings and other belongings confiscated.

Police raids have made all massage parlor workers’ lives more precarious. By surveilling, punishing workers, or closing massage parlors, law enforcement officers take away workers’ safety, agency, and source of income — ultimately increasing their vulnerability to the most heinous forms of exploitation and gendered violence. In 2014, Seattle attorney and former city prosecutor Danford Grant was sentenced to 25 years for sexually assaulting 5 massage parlor workers. Like the Atlanta murderer, Grant, a white man, claimed to have a sex addiction. These unjust racist and gendered power dynamics — re-enforced by the targeted sexualized policing of massage parlors — expose Asian immigrant women working to survive to racist fetishisms and violence. Policing massage parlors without providing a viable structure for immigrant and undocumented women to succeed, thrive, and control their own lives only increases their jeopardy, exploitation, and precarity.

Mayor Durkan and Chief Diaz’s call for increased policing is inseparable from their support of and visions for gentrification in the neighborhood. As with speculative real estate developers and even local neighborhood nonprofits in the CID, talk about “public safety” is coded language for displacing massage parlor workers and our unhoused neighbors to appease white-advantaging gentrification. But just as encampment sweeps fail to address homelessness or meet the actual needs of unhoused people, policing massage parlors out of existence does nothing to improve living or labor conditions for those who work at and use these businesses.

We stand in solidarity with all low-wage immigrant workers. We stand in solidarity with our Black, Latinx, and Indigenous siblings who are impacted by police brutality, and who live in and adjacent to the CID. We stand with our immigrant siblings who are detained and deported by police, the FBI, and ICE. We stand with our houseless siblings who shelter in the CID together for collective safety and community. And we stand with massage parlor workers who have been systematically arrested and harassed by police. We refuse to allow yet another instance of wanton white supremacist violence to justify the increase and expansion of law enforcement into our neighborhood.

Massage parlor workers and workers who provide sex have always been part of the CID, along with migrant laborers, cooks, grocers, and merchants. If we truly want to “stop Asian hate” and keep our community safe, we start by protecting those most vulnerable.

We encourage policies that advocate for and alongside what massage parlor workers want and need to be empowered and safe from harm. We demand the decriminalization of sex work, and recognition of sex workers and immigrants in massage parlors as legitimate essential workers providing an in-demand service. And we demand the defunding of the Seattle Police Department and the reallocation of monies to housing and social services in the CID. Let’s respect massage parlor workers and fight the harm, not our own people.

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The Massage Parlor Outreach Project (MPOP) and Chinatown-International District Coalition are two grassroots organizations based in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. We value the cultural and historical importance of the Chinatown-International District (CID) and organize in solidarity with all who live and work in the CID, including massage parlor workers and houseless communities, for an inclusive CID.

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