Pandemic Diary #45 – when you can’t sleep because you’re thinking about the ethics of your research (Mar 23)

ddg search for “urban institution illicit massage parlor”

Comes up with this study based on interviews with 116 Chinese and Korean women in the illicit massage parlor business in NYC and LA from October 2014 through July 2016.

Online Event, Dec 11 2020

From the event page:

This report, from researchers at Hunter College of the City University of New York and University of Southern California, aims to shed light on the experiences of Chinese and Korean immigrant women working in illicit massage parlors in Los Angeles County and New York City. Media accounts have documented raids, mass arrests and undercover stings of illicit massage parlors in US cities and suburbs. Often lost in these accounts are the daily experiences of the women workers from their own perspectives. Why are women working in these establishments and under what conditions do they labor? What is the arrest process like for them? What solutions can be offered that do not further penalize, traumatize, or victimize an already vulnerable population? This report aims to answer some of these questions, and offer recommendations for policy and practice, based on in-depth interviews with 116 women working in illicit massage parlors.

This is the part that’s giving me insomnia

Massage parlor workers’ fear of arrest for prostitution almost always superseded their fear of being robbed or assaulted by clients. Most women, when asked about threats to their safety, first answered in terms of their fear of being arrested.

And a second part

Illicit massage parlor work as a labor rights issue

The wide range of experiences reported in our study, including both negative and positive experiences, suggests that addressing illicit massage parlor work as a labor issue may be fruitful from both research and practice perspectives.

With a labor-oriented perspective, the use of blunt regulatory tools – such as criminal prosecution of workers and the use of municipal codes to thwart illicit massage parlor businesses – can evolve towards a more nuanced understanding of why illicit massage parlor businesses proliferate, why immigrant women continue to work in them, and the consequences for cities, neighborhoods, and the workers. A focus on labor rights can also extend the trafficking lens to include not just sex trafficking but also broader forms of labor trafficking and exploitation. From a practice point-of-view, an immigrant labor framework allows for addressing the day-to-day hardships of illicit massage parlor workers as workers. A labor framework can begin to examine ways of improving daily working conditions by addressing wages, work hours, safety and access to healthcare for the many women who choose to continue working in the sector.

Some notes for me from the report (parts I’m thinking over)

These recommendations offer incremental ways to address the most immediate issues of overly aggressive policing, as well as some of the root causes of exploitation, such as the lack of economic survival alternatives. Given the highly politicized nature of the debate on whether the provision of commercial sexual services should be legalized, decriminalized, or eliminated – these recommendations seek to move beyond the stalemate and create change that is attainable.


As discussed earlier, many illicit massage parlor workers had limited job options because of language barriers and undocumented immigration status, and some study participants noted a lack of job training or job counseling as another reason. One study participant, who wanted to pursue a job in education, suggested that community centers could help provide job training and counseling. Without this type of support, she found herself returning to illicit massage parlor work multiple times: “Although I want to quit this job and try to look for other work, there are few options I can choose from. In the past, I quit several times but eventually came back to this industry after spending all the money I had saved while working [in massage parlors].”


As before:

Massage parlor workers’ fear of arrest for prostitution almost always superseded their fear of being robbed or assaulted by clients. Most women, when asked about threats to their safety, first answered in terms of their fear of being arrested.

As described earlier, this confusion is fueled when police arrest all the women in a massage parlor, regardless of what they were doing, and on the other hand, when police engage in sexual activity with massage parlor workers without making arrests

very much the last part should not be a thing (again: realities on the ground vs realities at a high level)

Although most study participants were in agreement that experiences with the police ranged from negative to abusive, some reported having more benign experiences with police officers, even when arrested.

That is not the “most” you want… There are some truly sad anecdotes about interactions with the police.


“If she presses charges, the defendant’s lawyer will say she seduced the defendant to have sex. She said she wants to get the green card so she cancelled the charges.”

Language barriers

Study participants were unable to communicate effectively with the police and sometimes unwittingly admitted to crimes they did not commit.

Court process language barriers

Issues of “legal literacy” are compounded when language interpretation services are inadequate, as described earlier

Same topic

Illicit massage parlor workers’ ability to assess their own legal risks was often compromised by their lack of understanding of the law and of arrest and court procedures

Negative Lawyer Interactions

Some participants believed that their lawyers manipulated them into a guilty plea for either expediency or to prolong the need for legal services (and thereby additional legal fees). At the very least, participants felt that proceedings and decisions were not adequately explained to them, leaving them feeling unsure if they received appropriate representation.

Immigration and Diversion Programs

Study participants valued being able to avoid a criminal conviction through these alternative court programs. Having a criminal record was not only a source of shame, but also an impediment to acquiring documented immigration status and future employment outside of the illicit massage parlor industry


Both advocates and workers believed that raids and arrests did not serve the goal of ending illicit activity and exploitation. Instead, many women were further victimized, and employers, clients, and other actors leveraged this fear of law enforcement to exploit the women further.

Raids pt 2

Increase collaboration between law enforcement and legal/social service providers: Given that illicit massage parlor raids and arrests are likely to continue, law enforcement should at least work in close coordination with legal/social service providers when making arrests


Ultimately, many study participants felt the arrests were merely token efforts to address prostitution without delving more deeply into the root causes of the issue by targeting illicit massage parlor owners and clients. As a result, participants felt unjustly targeted and disproportionately penalized

Currently, it appears that some local neighborhood groups are working with their local police and leveraging community policing mechanisms to target certain segments of their community that they deem “foreign” and “unwanted,” such as immigrants or those working in illicit massage parlors. Lost in those efforts is an understanding of the ways in which undocumented immigrant women are exploited through illicit massage parlor work and then further victimized through the legal process

Rather than arresting illicit massage parlor workers for prostitution or unlicensed massage, agencies would instead focus on the business practices of their employers. Law enforcement would focus on extreme cases of exploitation, such as human trafficking. This approach shifts effort to the more prevalent concerns of labor rights and worker and consumer health and safety.

What has changed since 2016? I will watch the video to find out. (I’m hoping that in NYC and LA the diversion courts and police training / shifting of focus has happened).


Vera Institute of Justice and the US Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services also published a series of reports (“Police Perspectives Guidebook Series: Building Trust in a Diverse Nation”), written by law enforcement officers in collaboration with Vera Institute’s research team.

Homeless Initiative

For example, in New York City, police officers, mental health workers, lawyers and other providers visit homeless encampments together, rather than relying solely on police officers to respond to complaints.35 Understanding how this initiative has worked can be instructive for implementing a collaborative approach to policing illicit massage parlors in New York City and Los Angeles County.


In light of these realities, social services should include a wider range of programs focused on economic and financial security. Social service providers could offer more economic/skills-based training that track women into jobs that offer living wages

More carrot

There may be opportunities through social media and other means to develop support networks where former illicit massage parlor workers can provide guidance to help other women to move out of the illicit massage parlor industry.

A number of our study participants indicated that their models for financial success were other illicit massage parlor owners, whom they aspired to emulate. Mentorship by former illicit massage parlor workers who have moved out of the industry may open up alternative paths.

These social and support networks could be expanded to include more formal arrangements with willing employers and business networks to establish pipelines to living-wage employment


so how does this affect my research?

it’s a bit questionable to help with classifying individual businesses as legal or not, in order to help them get shut down, from complaints by police or local neighborhood groups, using nuisance laws.

There is a lot of creativity about use of stick, not so much creativity about use of carrot.

Fortunately the report basically provides a list of carrots!

Things I can do in collaboration more ethically:

  • Estimate activity at county level: View google sites review text as ”traces” of IMB activity, as well as RM review count directly
    • (qualms: could be used by law enforcement to focus parlor raids; pros: could be used by non profits or social services or e.g. outreach to churches to focus outreach)
  • Address health literacy – but not sure what about this would be research that could be published that could get me a job…
    • ???

oh heavens sleep it’s 5 am

Pandemic Diary #44 – being a positive being ! the mighty power of seedlings

10 days for cauliflower, 11 days for tomatoes!

seeds vary in size and shape so dramatically, definitely cool.

om-g my parents got their first vaccine

still sinking in slowly, feel super super super privileged compared to friends with parents elsewhere T__T and friends who lost their relatives / grandparents :(((

being positive! people respond well to positive not negative, really gotta emphasize that this is just all a side effect of general anger offgassing :'(

i found dr. michelle au’s twitter and it’s honestly really refreshingly .. normal. love her newsletter’s (i should probably find a way to give feedback on that)

being true to myself – just have to keep that route and do things that feel right by me; what works for others won’t work for me, and there’s many paths that will work out just fine, so don’t stress too much about taking paths that will stress me out (grass is greener but green enough here)

apply to jobs is depressing, but trying to treat it as a learning experience !

the feeling of being used for research, which is published and then put in news and used for grants and meanwhile i — don’t be bitter, just be okay and remember who you are – you’ve come so far! remember when you thought publishing a paper would never happen?

it’s hard to hold on to indignant self-worth but (idk i’m fine)


plus you had a poster (should follow up on connections from that…)

Pandemic Diary #43 – silhouette clip art, and being a bundle of rage

does the first page of results for silhouette on free clip art search really need to include silhouette porn?? really????

at least it took until the 6th page of results for woman to get into straight out full-color porn

i told people that the internet is a depressing place


idk does it give me more empathy for black people in the US? to feel like (total metaphor) suddenly realizing that i have a third arm, and that it’s very obvious and i might get shot for it? to feel other… still remember getting on a flight to (or within?) china and it feels totally different to be part of the faceless majority. but most of the time i don’t feel it in the us, it was just briefly after

some whacko dude shot up a few massage parlors and killed

on the plus side i was outside because my parents both just got vaccinated!!!! sweet fishsticks on a platter

ugh i just constantly make my life difficult for no reason… why be mad about all this, just apply to internships. why care about COVID, just get your work done. why care about the elections, just get your work done. why care about kroger being a d**k and closing stores in response to unionization attempts (though later i read that sometimes they plan to close stores anyway and then pretend it was in retaliation for that nice sweet chilling effect). in the end there wasn’t a better store than kroger, other than home depot; target has treated their workers well, but they’re also an extra 40 mins round trip, which is not great gas-wise. so, kroger curbside and try to tip i guess.

just mad at myself, mad at my friends, mad at strangers, mad at the world.

why are the names not being released? where is the gofundme for the businesses? if they were “illicit massage businesses” as the term goes, can we not still support them through tragedy?

it has done me proud to watch michelle au (who turns out to be 1st gen chinese american) in the GA state senate denouncing this stuff on monday:, and I choked back a tear when senator warnock opened his first floor speech to reference this.

i think people do tend to skirt around this though: why are all the shooters men? what is going wrong? why would anyone sane think “i’m not racist, i just have a sex addiction, and the way to deal with it is to kill women, specifically asian spas with asian women”

in what world is it “i have a problem, to solve it i will kill women” ??

who are the people who died? will the news cycle move on before we even get their names?

totally defying best practices for journalists but fortunately this is jut my derpy totally non technical apparently blog

thoughts from work

would universal basic income reduce dangerous prostitution? i tell people it’s probably more effective and less harmful to work on financial independence than “rescues” or “deterrents”

why is it that

i feel so insecure, like i need to prove that i’m technical, that i do worthy work even if i’m unpaid

yet i am mad that no doubt none of my male engineer friends will spend time reading these books, but why am i mad at them? i have the whole world to be mad at. i guess it is the only part i can control. but i will just be treated as the hysterical person… rather than being able to share all these cool insights and cool research, i sit here alone…

the moment of lift takeaways

probably trigger warnings for suicide idk. my saddest takeaway

the moment of lift, page 262

jesus. that’s just straight up heartbreaking.

the moment of lift, page 252

kids, kids, kids. these books all talk about it all the time. i’m mad about this. i just want to talk about careers. but the whole idea of time poverty… that was another eye opener for me

time poverty – my most wtf takeaway

the moment of lift, page 127

rice desires according to gender roles – breaking backs – my “huh never thought of that” takeaway

the moment of lift, page 196

majority of GAins eligible for vaccines

i was surprised to hear majority – turns out this is because >64% of Georgians are overweight or obese

that’s depressing

also i have only to gain 10 lbs to be eligible which seems very do-able, but j/k i will just wait 3 weeks until i am eligible which

holy bananas we blew past 1 million vaccinations a day, it’s insane, i thought my parents might be eligible end of april and i eligible end of june or july or something

it felt suddenly like the pandemic – that it was over – that i could just fly back to boston the next day

but i’m refusing to fly until i’m fully vaccinated, i just don’t feel like it’s setting a good example (there i am, making my life difficult, even worse judging others at the same time)

the other book i am reading is invisible women, i thought it would just rehash everything i’ve heard 30 times already. but turns out definitely several cool anecdotes i’d never heard / thought about. sadly almost all of them are about women taking care of kids T__T sigh

okay, find literature about women being powerful narcissistic power hungry rich b*tchy fafo’s (vs mofo’s) and being rewarded for it

ok ugh i need to do all the work
(that i am unpaid for great) like legit i fear being paid because i fear failure and what the dickens is up with that?? somehow in the last 4 months i’ve lost my indignant sense of self-worth again