A History of Scapegoating and Sexual Violence
March 30, 1876, a newspaper article was published in an effort to further rally Californians against the perceived threat of Chinese Americans, many of whom had joined the effort to build the transcontinental railroad. Others had formed self-sustaining communities in the face of Xenophobia. The charges in the aforementioned article classified Chinese Americans as “a slave… no fit for competition for an American freeman,” as the type of people who “herds in scores, in small dens where a white man and wife could hardly breathe” and “that his sister is a prostitute from instinct, religion, education, and interest, and degrading to all around her” (Miscione, 1966). This rhetoric escalated, leading to a mass shooting in Los Angeles, California where 18 members of the Chinese American community were killed in an effort to drive them out of town – as they had become “demoralized and uncontrollable” (Miscione, 1871).
Fast forward to 2021. On March 16, 2021, eight people were killed in Atlanta, Georgia – six of whom were Asian women. These women lost their lives for what the shooter claimed to be “sex addiction”, reducing Asian women to the dangerous fetishization that has led them to be the targets of sexual assault and harassment throughout the history of the United States.
According to a 2015 study conducted by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, 55% of AAPI women in the U.S. reported experiencing sexual violence during their lifetime. Additionally, 56% of Filipinas and 64% of Indian and Pakistani women reported surviving sexual violence by an intimate partner. Data from the Polaris Project Hotline shows that Asian Americans constitute the second largest group of those forced into human trafficking.
How did we get here? While we continue to have discussions and learn more about what modern day Anti-Asian sentiment looks like, here’s a quick look into the past.
“Beginning in 1909 and continuing for 70 years, California led the country in the number of sterilization procedures performed on men and women, often without their full knowledge and consent. Approximately 20,000 sterilizations took place in state institutions, comprising one-third of the total number performed in the 32 states where such action was legal.” (UC Santa Barbara Current)
Tldr: California’s government gave the green light for the state to practice Eugenics (a.k.a selective breeding of human populations to exclude certain groups of individuals), further pushing other states to do the same.
Those affected were claimed to be “feebleminded” – but in reality the individuals impacted were largely those with disabilities and people of color, including African Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans living in California.
California’s sterilization laws were put into place during a time in which Xenophobic rhetoric had reached new heights. Laws preventing land ownership for people of color and increased bans on Asian American immigration were passed within the same 10 years as bills that not only allowed the practice of sterilization (a.k.a involuntary removal of the uterus) in prisons and hospitals, but also expanded the state’s right to sterilize additional groups of individuals.
These laws were not repealed until 1979.
As the world began to learn more about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, numerous American leaders chose to pin the pandemic on Asian Americans. Terms like “Kung Flu” and “China Virus” are still being used today, fueling Anti-Asian hate crimes and sentiment across the U.S.
This is not the first time that America has scapegoated the Asian American population. In the 1880s “Yellow Peril” – blaming the economic strife of white Americans on the presence of Asian Americans – became an active form of discrimination. The claim by the government and the Workingman’s Party was that because Asian Americans were willing to work for a low wage, no one would hire a white man because why pay more for labor?
At the turn of the century, South Asians began immigrating to the U.S. largely seeking work in agriculture. The term “Dusky Peril” – an invasion of Hindu individuals following the example the Chinese had set – started being used by white Americans.
This thought process ultimately led to an immigration ban. New legislation set the stage for the “Model Minority” myth. While Asians were banned from immigrating to the states, it wasn’t all Asians; merchants, diplomats, aristocrats were still allowed to enter the U.S.
Rape and Sexual Assault During Japanese Internment
When incidents of sexual assault were reported, they were often faced with skepticism or dismissed as inevitable and unimportant. One field officer wrote, “After all, what do you think would happen if a mere 100 girls were pitted against some 400 soldiers?”.
The reports of sexual assault often led to victim blaming and state surveillance. “Ultimately, the risks associated with reporting sexual abuse or assault—being ostracized as liars, inu, and vengeful ex-girlfriends; retraumatization; retaliation; having their stories coopted to justify increased state surveillance or bolster stereotypes of downtrodden Japanese women in need of white salvation—far outweighed the potential benefits” (Densho, 2018).
Even after idnviduals were released from internment camps, sexual violence and harassment continued. And the response remained the same from authorities – dismissal and victim blaming.
What Can We Do Today?
Take some time to uplift Asian American voices and become an ally by learning more about the adversity faced by this community.
Our CEO, Dr. Sophia Yen, issued this statement earlier this week:
Horror, Appalled, Sad, Angry, United against hate. All those emotions ran through me as I read about what happened in Atlanta to 8 people, 7 of which were women, 6 of which were Asian. Then a 35 year old man attacked an elderly Chinese-Woman in San Francisco.
At Pandia Health, we condemn racism, sexism, misogyny.
Thank you to everyone who is speaking out against violence. We’re proud to donate to:
https://aaja.org AAJA Asian American Journalists Association
Use the code StopAAPIHate for $5 off your online doctor consultation. For every person that signs up with this code, we will donate $20 to one of the above orgnaizations.
You can report AAPI hate incidences here.
17 nonprofits to help the Asian American Community right now.