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No More Vigils: The Call For Sex Worker Protection In The Wake Of Atlanta Shootings

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Asian American sex worker activists and advocates are leading conversations about the role sexism, racism and sex-work discrimination played in the attacks on Atlanta-area spas.

The murder of eight people inside Atlanta-area spas illuminated forces of discrimination against the sex work industry and Asian American community and what is needed to shift the needle for more protective sex work legislation and policy.

After the mass shooting at three Atlanta-area spas on March 16, Asian American sex workers and allies are speaking out against racism, sexism and sex work discrimination. Six of the eight people murdered in the attacks were women of Asian descent — and though we may never know if they identified as sex workers, they were targeted as “temptations” and their murders have highlighted the need for protections in sex worker communities.

Host Anita Rao talks with Dia Dynasty, an Asian American professional sex worker in New York City, about her experience and how she’s processing this tragedy. And Elizabeth Nolan Brown, the senior editor of Reason and co-founder of Feminists for Liberty, joins the conversation to share her research on policy changes that could benefit sex workers.

Interview Highlights

Dia Dynasty on sex worker social justice movements and her hopes for the future:

The labor that sex workers provide — whether it's just a little bit of teasing or providing a safe space, or intimacy, or just having somebody that will not judge you — that is extremely valuable, because of all the societal pressures and expectations that we go through and that this culture puts on us as people that are in this culture to produce for capitalism. … We have to look at things in their context, and embrace what we are and who we are, rather than trying to find parts of this country and this culture that we don't like and try to eradicate them. It also is a huge call for everybody to look at themselves and see something within themselves that can be compassionate about all of this. Like, were you ever a worker? Were you ever judged or shamed because of some sort of sexuality, or some form of sexuality you desired?

Elizabeth Nolan Brown on the benefits of decriminalizing sex work:

Resources that could actually be used to help people who are being exploited [are] not going to that. Because instead, police and officials are just spending all of their time chasing people who are doing this consensually. And then the other thing is that all of the industry is driven further underground, which … makes it harder for people to come forward when they are being targeted by violence and other forms of exploitation. … Even if they come forward and say: I'm being exploited, [police will] say: Okay, but you were doing sex work to begin with, so you will be criminalized. So it makes victims really not able to come forward, and not just victims of sex trafficking — victims of labor exploitation too.

Kaia Findlay is a producer for Embodied, WUNC's weekly, live talk show on health, sex and relationships. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.