The killing of eight individuals at three Atlanta massage parlors has been framed, almost solely, as a case of race-based murder. This is piling distortion on top of tragedy.

The Washington Post ran 16 separate pieces depicting the fatal shootings as racially motivated, while The New York Times settled for a mere nine stories reaching the same conclusion.  Even Christianity Today could not resist the temptation to pile on by labeling the killer as one more bigoted Christian nationalist on the loose.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris led the charge. Six of the eight killed were women of Asian descent. With Asian Americans now the country’s fastest growing demographic, the left saw and seized the golden moment.

Those on the left are using these murders for their own ends by driving a narrative almost exclusively devoted to race.

These senseless deaths, as well as an increase in harassment of Asians since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a profound wound we feel deeply. But there is another grievous reality behind these murders, and that story must be told as well.  

The massage parlors that dot the landscape of affluent cities, notably Atlanta, are not innocent businesses seeking to do a good day’s work.  Four of Atlanta’s most prosperous counties are home to over 100 massage spas (three of which the killer targeted).  

Here’s the setup for the average massage parlor:  It’s the site for both legitimate and illegitimate activity. An ordinary massage is usually available in the front part of the building. But the proprietor will also point a willing customer to rooms in the back where a multitude of sexual acts can be had, for a greater fee.

These spas rake in over 42 million dollars a year in Georgia, and precious little of that comes from a simple back massage.

An independent 2019 report on sex trafficking in Georgia says that while these illicit massage parlors appear to operate as individual small business entities, “a growing body of research suggests they actually represent an elaborate criminal web.”

The report surveyed a user-generated directory of illicit massage parlors in the Atlanta area and found that of the top 30 listed, all but one were staffed by Asian, Chinese, or Korean women. Each of the three massage parlors the killer targeted is listed on this site. The 21-ear-old man charged with the March 16 killings frequented two of them.

If you drive through the tonier suburbs of Atlanta, you can hardly go a block without passing—but perhaps not noticing —a massage parlor. Its four doors down from Kroger’s, or right next to the pizza restaurant your family loves.

Harder to grasp is that behind those shaded windows a dark story is unfolding, one that scars the lives of actual individuals, both users and victims. An estimated 500 individuals, mostly women, are victims of some form of prostitution each day in massage parlors across Georgia.

Indeed, sexual exploitation is so prevalent in Atlanta that key area churches banded together in 2007 to address the problem. A thriving ministry called “Street Grace” was born from that concern. Its goal is to end the demand for sex acts. Legislation designed to use the violation of city ordinances as a means to put massage parlors out of business is the ministry’s newest initiative.

How do so many Asian women get lured into this trap?  Bob Rodgers, CEO of Street Grace and former president of Richmont Graduate University, explains that the answers are complicated to fix, though easier to understand.

Young Asian women come to America in search of a better life. There are debts to be paid for their passage. They may be supporting family members here, or relatives back home. They fear that talking to law enforcement will mean deportation. Traffickers, who make as much as $30,000 a month, often threaten harm to family members.

Sex services are a huge business. Owners of illicit massage parlor operate them as shell entities, passing money through a legitimate business such as a nail salon or laundromat. Massage parlors are notoriously hard to win against in court.  

Robert Aaron Long, the self-confessed sex addict who committed these murders, was all too familiar with this world. By his own admission, he frequented these massage parlors, which are known to be the safest place to buy illegal sex.

So far there is no concrete evidence that Long targeted Asians, or that his base motivation was one of racial hatred.  Killing two white people among the eight would be a strange act for a “white supremist.”

Violence against women long has been tied to pornography and sexual addiction. You come to hate that which enslaves you. Tragically, that hatred is sometimes taken out on the actual victim, the woman herself.

I’ve spoken with survivors of sex trafficking, including one young woman—who goes by the name Faythe—who now works for Street Grace. Faythe told me that when she thinks of these Atlanta murders, she sees a psychotic man who took out his frustration and his anger on the places he frequented.

“My heart breaks for these women,” she told me. “It is not their fault.”

Reports of racist acts and harassment against Asian Americans have indeed increased since the pandemic began. But tagging these Atlanta murders with indictments of racial prejudice or white supremacy obscures the inconvenient, underlying story of sexual exploitation happening right before our eyes.

It is more accurate to understand the killings in Atlanta as crimes against women rather crimes against race.  The left is complicit in manipulating a story that ignores what many trafficked women suffer on a daily basis.

Distorting the story only further obscures what is hiding in plain sight—the sexual exploitation of women.

It’s time we used our grief productively. It’s time we told the whole story.

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