Six large red arrows point to the entrance of Aromatherapy Spa on Atlanta’s Piedmont Road, beacons to those seeking untold pleasures within.
Robert Aaron Long claimed he found the invitation irresistible.The 21-year-old from Woodstock frequented Aromatherapy, as well as the Gold Spa directly across the street, establishments open around the clock and whose advertisements feature women — particularly Asian women — in suggestive poses.
On Tuesday, authorities say, Long purchased a 9 mm handgun and headed to three spas — one in south Cherokee County and the two in Atlanta — where he shot eight people to death and seriously wounded one other. His motives remain the subject of investigation, but he told police he was trying to purge the sources of temptations while battling sex addiction.
This is what we know about the industry and the women that Long chose to attack:
Painting by Fritz von Uhde
While the exact services offered at the spas that were attacked are not clear, last week the eyes of the world fell on this often-ignored segment of Atlanta’s “adult entertainment” industry. Despite more than a decade of trying, Georgia has failed to rein in certain illicit massage businesses that hypersexualize and commodify women.
Laws and local ordinances aimed to crack down on prostitution and potential human trafficking have only resulted in sporadic police busts and occasional losses of state-issued massage therapy licenses. Meanwhile, behind the darkened windows of undistinguished commercial buildings, an invisible population remains vulnerable to the type of deadly, misogynistic violence seen Tuesday….
What roles the victims played at the spas is not clear. At least one woman who died at Young’s Asian Massage, Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33, was on the premises as a customer. Paul Andre Michels, 54, who was white, also was killed in the Acworth shooting, along with Daoyou Feng, 44, and Xiaojie Tan, 49.
Tan, who held a state massage therapy license, is listed as the owner of that spa, as well as at least one other in Kennesaw.
Greg Hynson, a customer of the Cherokee location, said he was close friends with Tan and never saw or heard any evidence of illegal activity. “She ran a reputable business,” he said.
On the Atlanta victims:
The Atlanta victims, all of Korean descent, were identified Friday as Soon Chung Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69; Yong Ae Yue, 63; and Hyun Jung Grant, 51. According to a report in The Korea Daily, a Korean language daily published in the U.S., the three older women essentially acted as site managers, opening the door for customers or serving meals to workers.
Court records indicate a 51-year-old by the name of Hyun Jung Grant was arrested in Gwinnett County in 2009 on charges of pimping, prostitution, keeping a place of prostitution and giving a massage in a place used for lewdness.
Were women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s really engaged in prostitution? I’ve quoted a lot from this article, but it is very long and the rest is well worth reading at the link.
Patrick Adams at The Daily Beast: Son of Atlanta Shooting Victim Calls ‘Bullshit’ on Sex Addiction Claim.
Randy Park said he learned of his mother’s murder while he was playing his favorite video game, League of Legends, in their townhome in Duluth, Georgia.
Woman Reading with Cat, Carol Keiser
It’s a short drive from the Atlanta spas where police say 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long shot and killed four Asian women shortly after he shot and killed four other people in a suburb north of the city, two of those victims also Asian women….Park, 23, said he got a call that evening from the daughter of a survivor who had been next to his mother, Hyun Jung Grant, at Gold Spa when the shooting occurred….
Park and his mother were “very close,” he said. “I could tell her anything. If I had girl problems or whatever. She wasn’t just my mother. She was my friend.” [….]
Much of the national conversation about the shooting has centered on Cherokee County sheriffs apparently taking the suspect, a white kid from the suburbs, at his word that he was not motivated by racial animus. That dynamic was only worsened when, as The Daily Beast first reported, it was revealed the very official in that department perpetuating that narrative posted racist T-shirts that specifically targeted the Asian-American community.
Instead of racism, law-enforcement officials have said, the suspect has suggested he was motivated by his addiction to sex. Atlanta police on Thursday said he frequented the spas he attacked.
Park does not buy that explanation for a second.
“That’s bullshit,” he told The Daily Beast.
“My question to the family is, what did y’all teach him?” he added. “Did you turn him in because you’re scared that you’ll be affiliated with him? You just gonna scapegoat your son out? And they just get away scot free? Like, no, you guys definitely taught him some shit. Take some fucking responsibility.”
Park didn’t know anything about his mother being involved in sex work, but it sounds like he had been worried about it. But they were poor and “she did what she had to do” to keep her family going in the U.S. I think Park has a point that racism had to be involved in this crime and it’s important to know what the shooter learned during his upbringing.
Frankie Huang at The Daily Beast: White Fragility Is a Disease, and It Just Killed Six Asian Women.
For most of my life as a Chinese American woman, I accepted that a “normal” amount of feeling unsafe is simply part of my life in America, that if I lived more carefully I can avoid danger. Now, as I’m bombarded with reports of people who look like me that are being assaulted on sight, like vermin, I wonder how I ever thought this kind of dehumanization is something I can live with?
Actually, I do know how. It’s easier to self-soothe with the wishful fantasy that good behavior can be an effective prophylactic than it is to confront the bleak reality of being a person of color who lives in a country with a white supremacy problem.
Woman reading with a cat on a snowy day, Belinda Del Pesco
Which is what I reflexively did when the news about the horrific shooting in Atlanta popped up on my phone. My very first thought was, “Maybe it wasn’t a hate crime, but just a coincidence that six out of eight victims were Asian women.” I was scared to acknowledge that there are those who would want me dead just from the look of me, and that I live in their midst.
But then I came face to face with a different kind of denial about America’s problem with racism, one far grander and more dangerous than my own: the powerful white fragility engine that has roared into life to efficiently and systematically distort the narrative about the Atlanta massacre.
One can almost admire how the machine churns, the way the killer’s claim that his actions were not racially motivated has been amplified by the police and major media platforms, accepting a young white man’s claims at face value even after he murdered eight people. The Cherokee County sheriff said in a press conference, almost sympathetically, that the murderer “had a really bad day” and had admitted to “sex addiction.” Online, I’ve seen people speculating about mental illness, poverty, and substance abuse, with these narratives laid on thick to create a barrier around the obvious, distinct possibility that it was white supremacy that drove this white man to kill Asian women.
I’ve heard this song before. It starts with “maybe it’s not racism” and builds briskly to “he’s just a sad lone wolf” and ends in fading refrains of “thoughts and prayers.”
Read the rest at the Daily Beast link.
May Jeong at The New York Times: The Deep American Roots of the Atlanta Shootings.
In some massage parlors, women, often Asian, may sometimes perform sexual services.But I did not know whether those who died this week would have identified themselves as sex workers.
I have spent the past few years researching the various ways sex work intersects with race, class and gender, routinely amazed by how it connects to such disparate issues as criminal justice, gentrification, poverty, immigration and trans rights. I have come to understand sex work rights as an overlooked civil rights issue that deserves study. I soon found myself placing the Atlanta killings within the context of a horrific history….
Since the terrible events this past Tuesday, much effort has been devoted to understanding Mr. Long — an earnest inquiry that betrays a particular kind of American naïveté. He claimed to have been driven by “sexual addiction”; investigators have not yet ruled out race as a factor. For now, we do not know whether the massage parlor workers who were killed would have considered themselves sex workers, and we may never know. But the answer is less relevant to their deaths than their murderer’s answer: Does it matter how one identifies oneself if a mass killer conflates any Asian woman in a massage parlor with a sex worker?
Fernand Léger. Woman Reading with a Cat, 1921
The stereotype of the Asian woman as simultaneously hypersexualized and submissive is borne of centuries of Western imperialism. An early documented instance of Asian fetishization can be found in “Madame Chrysantheme,” a thinly fictionalized account of a French naval officer’s time visiting 19th-century Japan. “Madame Chrysantheme” was wildly popular when it was published, and went on to create a subgenre of Orientalizing prose. The women in such accounts were, as Edward Said wrote in “Orientalism,” “creatures of a male power-fantasy. They express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing.”
Later, an untold number of American servicemen in Korea and Vietnam had their first sexual encounter with Asian women. The U.S. military tacitly endorsed prostitution, considering it good for morale, and at times even explicitly encouraged troops to explore the local sex industry. According to the book “Sex Among Allies” by Katharine Moon, an assistant professor of political science at Wellesley College, an ad in Stars and Stripes, the main military newspaper, read: “Picture having three or four of the loveliest creatures God ever created hovering around you, singing, dancing, feeding you, washing what they feed you down with rice wine or beer, all saying at once, ‘You are the greatest.’ This is the Orient you heard about and came to find.”