The suspect in the fatal shootings in three Georgia spas has told authorities that he has accused the massage shops of providing an outlet for his sex addiction.
Robert Aaron Long saw the spas as “a temptation he wanted to remove,” according to a spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the spas are not on the police radar: “As far as we know in Atlanta, these are legal businesses.”
However, early signs suggest that the companies may not have been completely overboard, making the women working there particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence.
All three spas are listed on Rubmaps, an erotic reviews website where users can search for and review illegal massage parlors. The site is the most popular of its kind, where shoppers who refer to themselves as “hobbyists” or “traders” looking for sex, seek and share information. This is the result of a study by Polaris, a non-profit group that operates the national human trafficking hotline.
Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa, both in Atlanta, have around 100 reviews, many of them recently. A review for Gold Spa on March 9th found it was a “full service,” as was a similar review five days earlier. A review for Aromatherapy Spa on March 2 also found that sex was on the service list. Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia has 39 reviews on Rubmaps, which were last posted in February.
One of the eight victims, Xiaojie Tan, was listed as the owner of a limited liability company in connection with Young’s Asian Massage. The LLC also owns Wang’s Feet & Body Massage, a spa in neighboring Kennesaw that is also listed on Rubmaps.
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The Rubmap ratings, coupled with 24-hour service promotion, are red flags, said Elizabeth Kim, chief operating officer of Restore NYC, a nonprofit advocating housing and economic solutions for trafficking survivors .
“In New York, for example, a lot of the illegal massage shops are open very late or you can’t just walk in like a normal business – you have to get involved,” Kim said. It’s a customer or law enforcement or something. “
Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa are among several shops in the neighborhood that are frequented in the late nights, according to neighboring business owners. Your customers and services remain discreet behind darkened windows and parking spaces behind buildings.
The Gold Spa has a darkened glass door that blocks the view from the outside. The windows are covered by rusted shutters. At least one set of window coverings appears to be held together with duct tape. The only thing visible inside is an ATM near the main entrance.
The house has an LED sign in front of the house that says the store is open 24/7. The parking spaces are empty.
Kevin Howell said he was careful when leaving the house early on the weekend mornings. His home is right on a row of adult shops on Atlanta’s bustling Piedmont Road. The streets, Howell said, are often filled with loud cars and louder music.
“You never know who’s hanging out after people get out of massage parlors and bars,” said Howell, who works part-time in the television and film business. “This area has gone really crazy.”
From his balcony, Howell said he could see behind the Aromatherapy Spa, adding that he was part of a growing number of neighborhood residents whose frustrations are emerging with one of Atlanta’s red light districts.
“And all you see is people waiting outside or going in at the craziest times in the morning,” Howell said. “Lots of people would park in the back so they wouldn’t be seen.”
Two buildings to the right of the Aromatherapy Spa is Craig Barnes’ G Salon, a day spa that opened in this Piedmont Heights neighborhood in 1999. Its services include traditional salon offerings such as haircuts, hair dyes, and perms, as well as waxing, microdermabrasion, eyelash extensions, and aromatherapy massage.
The spas and strip clubs that share this Atlanta thoroughfare with G Salon were here when Barnes arrived more than two decades ago. In the immediate vicinity there is a Mexican restaurant and a pizzeria, car repair shops, doctor’s offices, a clairvoyant and apartment lofts.
“Twenty-one years, no problems,” said Barnes. “I’ve never met anyone in 21 years, never seen anyone there (at the location of the filming on Tuesday). You are calm. You don’t do business at the same time as I do. ”
While Barnes closes its doors to customers at 7 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on Saturdays, the 24-hour spas prepare for a rush of late-night customers.
When filming was on Tuesday evening rush hour in Atlanta, Barnes was in his salon. One of his customers called from across the street to cancel an appointment. Barnes told her not to worry, his team members would be waiting for her – without realizing that the streets were blocked.
“No, you don’t understand,” said the customer to Barnes. “Look out your door.”
Although it’s too early to be certain the spas were illegal, Kim said that illegal salons are inherently violent.
“In the past 12 years, we have served over 1,000 Asian women who have worked or been exploited in the illegal massage business,” said Kim. “We estimate that approximately 50% of the Asian clients we have worked with worked in illegal massage companies that met the criteria for trafficking in human beings.”
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Georgia law enforcement officials stated that the crime was motivated by gender, not race. But proponents opposed such provisions at this point.
“It’s not an either-or proposition. Racism, misogyny and violence are very closely related, ”said Kim. “I wouldn’t say we should turn to say that it is just a crime that is not sexual in nature and not racial in nature and vice versa. I don’t think it’s fair to say right now that it was one against the other. ”
Citing the long history of exploitation of Asian women in the US, Catherine Chen, the executive director of Polaris, notes that the term “Asian massage parlor”, which is often used to describe illegal massage businesses, can be anti-Asian.
“This whole idea that you can reduce Asian women to the sexuality that you can buy is what is behind the idea of an Asian massage parlor,” said Chen.
“We use the term ‘illegal massage business’ because we are trying to make in so many cases someone who ultimately benefits from the exploitation of women. And they run it as a legitimate business.”
Chen says it is important to recognize the dignity of women who may or may not have known the full extent of the companies they have worked for.
“They are mothers and wives and sisters and aunts,” said Chen. “They are truly full-fledged people, and their families may or may not have known they were in this situation. To recognize their dignity, even though this is a tragedy they landed in.”
Mallory Rahman and her 4-year-old daughter Zara left flowers on the steps of the Gold Spa in Atlanta on Wednesday to pay their respects to the women killed there.
“I told her that there were some people hurt here who shouldn’t be hurt. Some people have been hurt by a bad person, ”Rahman said. “I know she is young, but I also want to teach her from an early age.”
Featuring: Miguel Legoas, Dinah V. Pulver, Brenna Smith, Katie Wedell