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74% of Asian American, Pacific Islander women experienced racism in past year, report says

“We’re being targeted because of the stereotypes about us, that we won’t fight back, that we’re submissive,” advocate Sung Yeon Choimorrow said.
Image: Korean American Association Holds Rally For Murdered Woman In NYC's Chinatown
Members of the Korean American Association and others hold a rally and a news conference Feb. 15 near the building where Christina Yuna Lee was murdered in New York.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

As anti-Asian attacks on Asian American and Pacific Islanders continue to rise, a report released Thursday underscores how women in the racial group endure a disproportionate number of such incidents.

The research, spearheaded by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, revealed that 74 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander women reported having personally experienced racism or discrimination in the last 12 months, roughly the time since the Atlanta-area spa shootings, in which eight people, most of them Asian women, were murdered, the report pointed out. 

Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the forum’s executive director, said it’s critical to recognize that many of the issues women in the community have had to confront can be traced back centuries. And they’ve persisted because of “systemic failures, systemic racism, that has lasted generations,” she said. 

“I want to emphasize that it is the women that are having more of the life-threatening type of dangerous encounters,” Choimorrow said. “We’re being targeted because of the stereotypes about us, that we won’t fight back, that we’re submissive.”

Researchers surveyed more than 2,400 Asian American and Pacific Islander women online and over the phone across several languages, including English, Hindi, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Not only did a majority of women report racist encounters, but 38 percent also reported having experienced sexual harassment. And 12 percent said they experienced gender- or race-based physical violence. 

Russell Jeung, a co-founder of hate incident tracking forum Stop AAPI Hate, said many are likely to be dealing with the intersectional harassment of being both Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders and women. 

Men may also, in part, be less likely to report that they were bullied or harassed because of gender norms about masculinity; however, Jeung said, by and large, “it’s clearly a gendered issue” that affects women more. 

The report, which also breaks down data by ethnicity, found that women across Asian American and Pacific Islander subgroups face similar levels of racism and harassment, with 72 percent of East Asians, 73 percent of South Asians and 75 percent of Southeast Asians reporting that they’ve had such encounters. 

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women reported the highest percentage, with 80 percent saying they’ve dealt with racism or discrimination. The group also reported significantly higher levels of sexual harassment, at more than 50 percent.

Choimorrow said the results show that the danger that women across ethnicities in the community are in goes far beyond issues caused by racist “China virus” rhetoric and long predate the pandemic. It’s why, Choimorrow said, the solution isn’t as simple as passing hate crime legislation, like the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. 

“To be honest, if you think about it, having something like the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act also sort of reinforces that notion that this is a creation of Covid, and therefore we’re addressing it as that,” Choimorrow said. “There’s no recognition of what we have endured as people for hundreds of years. You’re not looking for the right solutions if you’re only looking at the context of the last two years.”

Jeung also advocated for a shift away from hate crimes legislation. Less than 10 percent of incidents cataloged by Stop AAPI Hate are crimes for which people could be arrested, he said, and many of the issues that women and other groups face fall across a variety of racist incidents. The focus on crime and punishment won’t address all of them, he said. Moreover, while the impetus for some incidents is a hatred of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, others often involve race but aren’t necessarily motivated by racial animus. 

Rather than push for hate crime legislation, Jeung said, advocating for more expansive civil rights protections would be far more effective, with a large proportion of cases collected by the organization considered civil rights violations. He also said Stop AAPI Hate aims to get harassment recognized as a public health issue. 

“Racism harms the public health of both individuals and all communities. We’re asking the Department of Health to define harassment and to create awareness,” Jeung said. “We’re not going to go and arrest anybody for making a catcall or yelling or hurling an epithet. But identifying what’s a community norm, calling out for better practices, I think it’s important for society to do.” 

Groups are also recommending that the Biden administration invest in culturally competent and language-accessible services. Choimorrow said that too often, Asian American and Pacific Islanders are treated as a “special case,” with materials provided to the community only after tragedies or certain other events. But, particularly given the long-standing issues Asian women face, access to care is critical at all times. 

“The problem is when we’ve been invisibilized and dismissed as the ‘other.’ … In moments of crisis, you don’t have the bandwidth and the capacity to meet our needs, because you haven’t invested in it from the get-go,” Choimorrow said. “To me, that is a real issue.”