FAIR Girls Admin

Asian American Women’s Vulnerabilities to Exploitation Rooted in Stereotypes and Racism

Since the start of COVID-19, reports of violent attacks towards Asian Americans have skyrocketed. From elders being slashed with box cutters and pushed onto the street to the March 17, 2021 shootings at Atlanta massage businesses, Asian Americans remain fearful of leaving their homes or having “China Virus” spat at them. Further, Asian American women reported experiencing hate incidents 2.3 times more than men (Jeung). Unfortunately, this gendered hostility and outright brutality is not new. Rather, it is deeply embedded into American history.

Starting with the Page Act of 1875 targeting China, Japan, and “any Oriental country,” it declares that “the importation into the United States of women for the purposes of prostitution is hereby forbidden” (“Barring Female Immigration”). The Act oversexualizes Asian women, assuming that they are inherently sexual and therefore conflating female Asian identity with illicit sexual services. Following, during the Philippine-American War “American soldiers referred to the Filipinas as ‘little brown f***ing machines powered by rice’” resulting in a sex industry emerging to cater to the U.S. military men “offering ‘a girl for the price of a burger” (Woan, 283). This continued through the Korean War and Vietnam War with regulated prostitution services known as “camp towns” similarly catering to U.S. military men (“United States Military”). It should be noted that many of the women servicing the military men were forced into doing so either by poverty, coercion, or other circumstances. Today, the trend continues with sex tourism in South East Asia booming, many of the buyers being Western men traveling explicitly for the sexual services from young women and girls (minors). These historical relations reinforced and solidified the hypersexualization and objectification of Asian women, namely East and Southeast Asian women, that is ever present today.

Social structures additionally contributed to the current racialization and stereotyping of Asian communities and individuals. The Model Minority Myth is a widespread yet harmful characterization. It positions Asian Americans—mostly East Asians and South Asians—to be a group of polite and law-abiding individuals who have reached great success via intrinsic ability and sheer hard work (“What Is the Model Minority Myth?”). The New York Times’ 1966 article “Success Story, Japanese American Style” and Time Magazine’s 1987 cover on “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids” both perpetuate this false idea that Asian Americans have “made it” despite centuries of discrimination and marginalization. Therefore, other marginalized groups should be able to do the same, specifically Black and Brown communities. The Model Minority Myth is used as a wedge in this way to pit Asian communities against others, drawing Asians closer to whiteness. This caricature of meritocracy has rendered the greater Asian American community to be equated with a small group of high-achieving individuals. As a result, Asian Americans are rendered monolithic East Asians who are smart, docile, and diligent. Tragically, these misconceptions gloss over the largest ethnic wealth gap in the U.S. with some Asians in the top 10% of income distribution earning 10.7 times as much as those Asians in the bottom 10% (Rakesh), failing to offer support to more marginalized ethnic groups like Laotians and Bhutanese. It also explicitly and erroneously suggests that Asian Americans do not face present-day racism.

Orientalism is another contributor to the brutality seen today. It is a Eurocentric way of viewing Asia as “exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous” in contrast to “civilized” and modest Europe (“What is Orientalism”), positioning Asia and diasporic Asians as “foreign” in their own countries. Consequently, Asian American women are at the heart of this. They are sexualized as “exotic” objects for the white gaze and white male consumption via two tropes: “Dragon Lady” and “China Doll”—also called the “Butterfly” or “Lotus Blossom.” The “Dragon Lady” is sensual, selfish, fierce (Lee, 3). She weaponizes her sexuality but is ultimately defeated to ensure white dominance (Lee, 3). Hu Li in Rush Hour is a prime example. On the other hand, the “China Doll” is docile, selfless, emotional, and submissive (Lee, 1). She often lacks agency, experiences little to no character development, and is depicted in an infantilizing way, like Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly. These two caricatures fortify understandings that Asian women are submissive commodities whose sole purpose is to be used and dominated by others.

Tragically, all of these harmful notions became deadly on March 17, 2021 when eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian, by a white man in Georgia. The shooter claimed to be motivated by a “sex addiction,” which was as a “temptation to eliminate,” rather than being motivated by race (McLaughlin). This hate crime cannot be viewed as just an erroneous act of misogyny, racism, or xenophobia though. The deep intersectionality of race, gender, class, and immigration status must be highlighted. The locations targeted were explicitly marketed as Asian-owned businesses offering legal massage and spa services, not illicit sexual ones. Yet due to the historical and social conflation of Asian female identity and the massage industry with illicit sexual activity, the shooter assumed the employees were offering sex and therefore must be “eliminated.” In this case along with many others, Asian women are hypersexualized and expected to willingly offer sex. This has been normalized through media like in the movie Full Metal Jacket and the song “Asian Girlz” by Day Above Ground. It also must be noted that many in the massage industry are working to pay back debt, have a great sense of responsibility in the immediate family or extended community, and/or have limited job opportunities due to immigration status, language ability, or job qualifications (Racism & Misogyny). They may be told the narrative that they are only able to work in the massage business due to their limited skills, rendering them vulnerable to exploitation from buyers who are often white men, law enforcement, and massage business owners to then reinforce fear or false claims that the massage business is the only place that they can work (Racism & Misogyny).

Unfortunately, all of these misconceptions and tropes bar Asian Americans from various leadership positions, exploit them for labor or sex, commodify them, and villanize them on a local and national scale. This legacy of brutality will continue unless proper education, deeper understanding, and community support is pursued. To start:

  1. Look into the historical and racialized roots of U.S. colonialism and imperialism in Asia.
  2. Ask yourself “what assumptions do you have about API communities?” (See e.g., Asian women are submissive, all Asians are smart).
  3. Offer Support (check in on your Asian friends, co-workers, and neighbors; donate to API organizations; encourage your school/workplace to incorporate API history & AAPI stories; volunteer at a local organization supporting API communities).


“Asian-American Whiz Kids – Aug. 31, 1987.” TIME.com, 2019, content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19870831,00.html. Accessed 23 May 2021.

“Barring Female Immigration” Digital History, 2021, www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=3&psid=21#:~:text=Digital%20History&text=Annotation%3A%20In%201875%2C%20the%20U.S.,coming%20to%20the%20United%20States. Accessed 18 May 2021.

Jeung, Russell, Aggie Yellow Horse, Tara Popovic, and Richard Lim. “Stop AAPI Hate National Report.” Stop AAPI Hate, 2021. https://secureservercdn.net/ Accessed 20 May 2021.

Lee, Joey. “East Asian ‘China Doll’ or ‘Dragon Lady’?” Bridges: An Undergraduate Journal of Contemporary Connections, vol. 3, 2018, scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=bridges_contemporary_connections.

McLaughlin, Eliott, Casey Tolan, and Amanda Watts. “Police: Atlanta Shooting Suspect May Have a Sex Addiction.” CNN, 17 Mar. 2021, www.cnn.com/2021/03/17/us/robert-aaron-long-suspected-shooter/index.html. Accessed 24 May 2021.

Pettersen, William. “Success Story, Japanese-American Style; Success Story, Japanese-American Style (Published 1966).” The New York Times, 2021, www.nytimes.com/1966/01/09/archives/success-story-japaneseamerican-style-success-story-japaneseamerican.html. Accessed 23 May 2021.

Racism & Misogyny: The Exploitation of Asian Women in the Massage Industry. World Without Exploitation, 25 March 2021. https://vimeo.com/530833937/6abdae2efd Webinar.

Rakesh Kochhar, and Anthony Cilluffo. “Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly among Asians.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 12 July 2018, www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/07/12/income-inequality-in-the-u-s-is-rising-most-rapidly-among-asians/. Accessed 23 May 2021.

“United States Military and Prostitution in South Korea.” Wikipedia, 5 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_and_prostitution_in_South_Korea. Accessed 18 May 2021.

“What Is the Model Minority Myth?” Learning for Justice, 2019, www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/what-is-the-model-minority-myth. Accessed 17 May 2021.

“What is Orientalism?” Arabstereotypes.org, 2013, arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism. Accessed 23 May 2021.

Woan, Sunny. “White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence,” Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, vol. 14, 2008, p. 275-301, scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1243&context=crsj.


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FAIR Girls AdminAsian American Women’s Vulnerabilities to Exploitation Rooted in Stereotypes and Racism

Executive Director Letter – April 2021

Dear Friends & Supporters,

Happy Spring! It is hard to believe that it has been a year since COVID changed our world on almost every level.  It has been an unimaginably difficult year in so many respects, but it is hard not to begin to see the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.  Spring is about new beginnings, emerging from the cold dark days of winter with a new perspective and renewed resolve.  As the cherry blossoms bloom around the area, I am reminded that hope springs eternal even after the coldest of days.  It is truly heartening that we may be starting to turn the corner with the help of the vaccination rollout.  Even as we dare to believe better days are ahead, those of us on the frontlines of the anti-trafficking movement know that we are just beginning to see the true negative impact of the isolation, economic hardship, and increased online presence of youth caused by this pandemic.  Even as we take a deep breath of fresh, spring air, we take stock and prepare ourselves for what still lies ahead and ensuring that we are here for the survivors that need us every day.    

 I cannot tell you how proud I am of our small but mighty FAIR Girls staff.  They have gone above and beyond in circumstances that we would never have dreamed of.  We are so proud that we have been able to keep our services available and accessible to survivors in need throughout the pandemic. It was never a question of whether we would, but rather, just figuring out how to do so safely and effectively.  But we didn’t do it alone either!  We could not have done it without the invaluable support of our wonderful and generous community partners and supporters. From donated safe extended-stay hotel rooms for survivors to quarantine in, to providing holiday meals and gifts for our Vida Home residents to purchasing emergency grocery gift cards for our youth clients whose families are suffering food scarcity during the pandemic, you have risen to the call to action every step of the way with us.   Without your generous support and belief in our mission, we would not have been able to meet the needs of the flood of survivors who came to us for help during the pandemic.   

And just like the courageous girls and young women we work with every day, we have not just survived this past year, we found ways to thrive too.  We have strategically grown and made ourselves stronger despite the challenges we faced this past year.  We are so excited about our new and expanded Drop-in Center opening this summer. Our new space will allow us to provide more survivors with expanded services and programming, including in-house therapy, hot meals, free laundry services, and economic empowerment programming in our dedicated workforce development space. While it has been a long road, we know being able to provide access to  “one-stop-shop” comprehensive services for survivors is going to be a game-changer. Stay tuned for all of the exciting updates in the coming months!  

I am also excited to announce that we are hosting our second virtual fundraiser LIVE on June 3 from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm eastern.  Be the Light, Be the Change is this year’s theme and we cannot think of a better one given all that we have been through and all the positive change we know we can make working together.  It will be an uplifting and empowering hour,  including video appeals, video performances, our online auction, and so much more.   This is FAIR Girls’ biggest fundraiser of the year, so please mark your calendars and plan to join us for this celebration. 

Thank you for your continued support and belief in our mission of ending human trafficking, one life at a time.   

Be well, 

Erin B. Andrews

Executive Director, FAIR Girls

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FAIR Girls AdminExecutive Director Letter – April 2021

Capitalism & Human Trafficking

With global inequality worsening and disparities becoming more prevalent in capitalist systems, vulnerabilities are being exacerbated. Basic necessities are being commodified: workers endure horrendous conditions while being underpaid, and vulnerable populations are illicitly bought and sold for nonconsensual sexual services.

Human trafficking is a booming business, now estimated to be over a 150 billion dollar industry (“Profits and Poverty”). Under capitalism, trafficking and exploitation thrive. Capitalism enables human bodies, especially those in vulnerable or unstable situations, to be seen as highly expendable, reusable, and profitable objects by those looking to exploit. Traffickers often hone in on these vulnerabilities using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to fill an emotional, psychological, and or physical need that the targeted individual is in search of. This may be providing a safe place to stay, a loving relationship, or a sense of belonging. Through this grooming process, the targeted individual is reduced to a means to an end that will ultimately result in their exploitation and the trafficker’s profit. Moreover, many traffickers use legal industries, such as public transportation, hotels and motels, social media, and banks, to aid the recruitment and continuation of trafficking. And while industries that intersect with human trafficking, like hotels and motels, are beginning to implement trafficking awareness employee training, many still do not have the proper training for employees or intentionally turn a blind eye to the exploitation in fear of losing traffickers’ business.

With capitalism being an economic and political system where “a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state” (Oxford Languages), private ownership and profit maximization are key drivers in our community. In regards to trafficking, human bodies and “services” are commodified and sold through force, fraud, or coercion for profit.

Looking at trafficking through a simple supply and demand economic model, there is a supply of product or service (trafficked persons) fueled by a demand (buyers) and private intermediaries to facilitate the exchange (traffickers) (Wheaton et al. 2010, 115). Every trafficker operates as their own business owner to maximize profit with an individual demand curve that fluctuates depending upon how “unique” their “product” is in comparison to other competitors’ (Wheaton et al. 2010, 124). Dr. Justine Pierre’s research on trafficking in the Caribbean articulates this point through interviewing over 300 human traffickers. The interviews reveal that all of the traffickers view themselves as business people rather than human rights abusers (Williamson). In order to maximize profit, traffickers may choose to target higher income brackets and therefore demand higher prices from buyers in exchange for the (Kara 2010). Alternatively, traffickers may focus on lower-income brackets with lower prices but supply a larger quantity of “product,” thus driving up the demand for sexual services (Kara 2010). In either case, profit maximization is at the forefront.

The role that race plays in trafficking and capitalism is another aspect that cannot be ignored, starting with the Transatlantic slave trade that ran parallel to the rise of European capitalism. Africans were bought by Europeans to work on American plantations—and later the Caribbean and Eastern African plantations—harvesting various raw materials like sugar, coffee, and cotton that would be sent to Europe who would then ship guns, wine, and textiles to Africa in return (Transatlantic Slave Trade 2021). Black and Brown bodies were rendered expendable forms of labor that could produce capital for profit. While the Transatlantic slave trade no longer exists today, its long-term impact is haunting and ever-present. Black, Brown, and Native communities are disproportionately more likely to experience food deserts, poverty, disconnection from education systems, lack of appropriate and sufficient health care, and family instability than white communities. Coupled with the historical commodification and hypersexualization of Black women and girls, communities of color, especially Black communities, are left particularly vulnerable to trafficking. In a 2018 two-year FBI report on suspected country-wide human trafficking incidents, 40% of sex trafficking victims were Black (Louisiana Department 2018) despite only 13% of the US population identifying as Black (United States Census Bureau).

From an economic perspective, there are two ways that the human trafficking market can be disrupted: increasing the cost or risk to traffickers or reducing the demand for cheap labor and sexual services (Wheaton et al. 2010, 130-131). Ideally, “if real-world prices could be doubled and achieve a decrease in demand . . . the profitability of the sex trafficking industry would be severely compromised” (Kara 2010, 37). From a human rights and preventative education perspective, conversations surrounding trafficking and exploitation need to become more widespread. Because it is unlikely that demand for commercial sex or cheap labor will decrease by itself, support to vulnerable populations must be extended to provide resources and empowerment. FAIR Girls’ “Tell Your Friends” multimedia prevention education curriculum seeks to prevent youth from entering the world of sexual exploitation and prevent system penetration. By providing information to middle and high school-aged youth regarding risk factors, grooming techniques, and healthy relationships, in an age-appropriate and engaging manner, youth are empowered to stay safe from exploitation and victimization and help their friends stay safer. Additionally, there needs to be an increased focus on and emphasis on “people over profit” to continually instill human dignity and humanity into every educational, interpersonal, and business framework we support. If people are viewed as a product rather than an individual, exploitation of vulnerabilities will undoubtedly continue.


  • Kara, Siddharth. 2010. Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. 2018. Human Trafficking, Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Annual Report.
  • “Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour.” 2014. Ilo.org, May. doi.org/978-92-2-128781-0.
  • “Transatlantic Slave Trade” 2021. Encyclopædia Britannica. www.britannica.com/topic/transatlantic-slave-trade.
  • “QuickFacts: United States.” 2019. Census Bureau. United States Census Bureau. www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/RHI225219#RHI225219.
  • Wheaton, Elizabeth M., Edward J. Schauer, and Thomas V. Galli. 2010. “Economics of Human Trafficking.” International Migration 48 (4): 114–41. doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2435.2009.00592.x.
  • Williamson, Celia. 2021. “Episode 81: I’m not a Human Trafficker, I’m a Businessman: The Perspective of 342 Human Traffickers” Dr. Celia Williamson. February 2, 2021. celiawilliamson.com/


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FAIR Girls AdminCapitalism & Human Trafficking