Georgia Massage Parlor Shooting

Last night, after my final session ended at 8 pm, I looked at the news quickly before I packed up to leave the office.  The biggest piece of news was the horrific murder of eight people, many of whom were women of Asian descent, who were murdered in a shooting spree.  These stories were followed by news that the shooter said he did this because of his sex addiction. 

In a moment of full transparency, I will acknowledge that my thought after seeing sex addiction being brought up as a motive for a mass shooting was, “oh no, we don’t need this.”  The legitimacy of sex addiction continues to be hotly debated in some circles and when horrible things happen and sex addiction is spoken about in conjunction with these horrific acts, it can add fuel to the debate fire.  I spent the night pondering if I was going to write about the event and obviously decided to do so.

I would like to start this post by saying that I am deeply sorry for the victims and their families.  The tragedy of these violent deaths is compounded by the fact that many women who work in these massage parlors are victims of sex trafficking.  I am also very sorry that the man who committed these crimes felt such despair that he thought his only option was to resort to such an extreme and violent act.

As much of my work is in the field of forensic psychology, that is the lens through which I am viewing this.  When a person commits a crime, there are both aggravating and mitigating factors.  As I have no knowledge of the specifics in this case, I am going to speak in generalities. 

Mitigating factors are things that may influence the person to commit the act.  They are in no way, shape or form an excuse for the commission of the crime.  They are the things that can explain the underlying factors that drove the person to the final criminal act.  It is well established that addiction is frequently a mitigating factor in many crimes.  We know that there is an association between drug addiction and crimes such as forgery, theft, etc.  Other crimes may be influenced by a person’s untreated mental health issues. 

In this case, it may well be that a mitigating factor was sexual addiction.  This would mean that the perpetrator felt he had an addiction to sexual behaviors and that he could not control them. Per newspaper reports, he sought treatment for these issues.  At some point, his behavior continued to feel out of control and he likely had deep feelings of shame around his sexual behavior (news reports have claimed that his religious beliefs fueled this shame). Obviously, there may be other mitigating factors as well.

On the other side of mitigating factors are aggravating factors.  These are issues that make the crime particularly heinous.  Again, not having reviewed the case, I can speculate that an aggravating factor here is the fact that many women who work in massage parlors are victims of sexual trafficking.  Research from many nonprofit advocacy groups that work to stop sex trafficking has shown that many of these women  are often from China or South Korea.  These women are often under extreme financial pressure, have limited resources and are recruited to work by fraudulent means and often do not know that they will be expected to perform work of a sexual nature.  If the victims in this case were also victims of sexual trafficking, it makes them even more of a vulnerable population. 

In this case, we can speculate that this man’s feelings of despair over his inability to control his sexual behavior overrode his sense of right and wrong.  As I stated before, mitigating factors are explanations and not excuses.  A person who has been to treatment has knowledge of coping skills and resources that could have been used instead of resorting to an act of violence.  There were other options. 

There are two major take aways from this horrible act of violence in Georgia. 

  1.  Sex trafficking is a major problem in the United States.  If you are unaware of this, please do some research on the topic.  Please also support the many great nonprofit organizations that work to stop the trafficking and help the victims of sex trafficking. 
  2. Problematic sexual behavior is treatable.  Violence is NEVER an acceptable answer. 

If you feel that you are suffering from a sexual addiction or are having difficulty controlling your sexual behaviors, please reach out to our office.  We will be happy to direct you to treatment in your area.

Resources to learn about Sex Trafficking

Office of Juvenile Justice

Human Trafficking Hotline

Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Valley Against Sex Trafficking

Resources for Treatment

Sexual Addiction Treatment Services

International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals

Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health

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