Not So Happy Endings: The Danger of Commercializing the Asian Sex Worker

By Amanda Wong

tao_billboard

Danford Grant, a litigation partner at a well-known Seattle firm was sentenced to 25 years after pleading guilty to raping five Asian massage therapists in 2011 and 2012. Grant exploited his victims’ cultural differences by relying on their language barriers, fear of community humiliation, and lack of knowledge about the justice system. By using these women’s Chinese heritage against them, Grant managed to attack five women before finally being caught. In every instance, Grant would lull the massage therapist into a false sense of security by positioning himself as a person of power, either by saying he was an attorney, police officer, or doctor. After his requests for sex were denied, Grant would forcefully rape his victims at knifepoint. At Grant’s trial, all the victims refused to testify out of fear of public humiliation and shame being brought upon their families. However, in descriptive letters read in court, the women explained their ongoing struggles with distress including panic attacks and fear of men resembling Grant.

This case illustrates the damaging nature surrounding this stereotype of Asian women. As part of his modus operandi, Grant would ask these Asian massage therapists for sex, with the expectation that they would agree, and when they refused, he would violently attack them. Further, Grant’s defense attorney was prepared to argue that this sex was consensual and that these women were just Asian sex workers. One victim wrote in her letter read at trial that she was horrified to read news article comments calling her and the other victims, “Asian prostitutes.” Although Grant pled guilty and his counsel was unable to use consensual sex as a defense, Grant, in his apology letter, blamed “commercial sex” for distorting his thinking. Although this is a feeble excuse and attempt to use commercial sex as a scapegoat, Grant and his counsel demonstrate how commercial sex and media perpetuate the image of the Asian masseuse as a sex worker.

Earlier this year, Tao nightclub in Las Vegas came under harsh criticism after erecting a large billboard featuring a topless woman with Chinese characters tattooed down her back and the caption, “Always a happy ending.” In response to negative media publicity started by angry Twitter users, Tao nightclub took down the billboard and responded with: “We regret that you take such offense and see it as a perpetuation of an unfortunate stereotype that is cultivated FAR MORE heinously by the hundreds (if not thousands) of Asian massage parlors in L.A. and Las Vegas… your focus would be better directed at the real source of the stereotype, actual happy ending massage parlors and their advertisements, not our harmless ad that elicits far more chuckles…”

Tao nightclub’s insincere apology highlights one of the reasons that stereotypes like the Asian masseuse who eagerly provides sexual favors still persists. Their response is indicative of how racial stereotypes are brushed aside as reflections of the truth. Yes, there may be massage parlors with masseuses that offer a little something extra. However, creating a presumption that this is the norm only serves to aggravate the problem by marginalizing the many Asian women employed as legitimate massage therapists. By commercializing this sexualized stereotype, Tao Nightclub’s billboard becomes more than just a “harmless ad” by reinforcing that this image is acceptable. The advertisement does not elicit “chuckles,” especially from women who are trapped by this stereotype, like the rape victims of Danford Grant.

Danford Grant’s attempt to cast blame on the commercialization of this stereotype is a clear demonstration of this stereotype’s harm and why we cannot allow further perpetuation of racial stereotypes.

(In a strange twist, Danford Grant’s wife, who tampered with evidence by keeping the location of Grant’s car from detectives for over a month and removing his keycard and wedding ring from the vehicle, was appointed to serve as a Pro Term Magistrate after resigning form the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2633435/High-powered-attorney-targeted-Asian-massage-therapists-raped-knife-point-sentenced-25-years.html

http://www.laweekly.com/informer/2014/03/31/vegas-club-tao-offers-most-insincere-redress-ever-for-offensive-billboard

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