While authorities said the Atlanta area spa shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long, 21, told investigators that he was motivated by “sexual addiction” and was not racially motivated.
Captain Jay Baker, a spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, said Long – who is accused of killing eight people, including six Asian women – said the spas were “a temptation for him to be removed “. However, experts say that such considerations have already been used in attempts to relieve white men. The declaration also excludes racial dynamics and can “do harm” to the way the public understands these issues.
White men have traditionally been given a passport when they say it – and have the privilege of overlooking how race is a factor, experts say.
“In the past, the term ‘sex addiction’ was used by white men to free themselves from personal and legal responsibility for their behavior,” said Apryl Alexander, associate professor in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver NBC Asian America. “It is often used as an excuse to pathologize misogyny.”
Baker, who was criticized for telling reporters that Long “had a really bad day for him on Tuesday, and he did,” and who received a backlash for sharing a post on Facebook last March, advertising anti-Asian t-shirts has since been removed as a spokesperson for the case.
While investigating acts of gender-based violence, Alexander said that such attacks often occur at the intersection of misogyny, racism, xenophobia and homophobia. She stressed that, contrary to what Long told the police, such violence “is not just isolated”.
Richelle Concepcion, president of the Asian American Psychological Association, said that accepting the suspect’s rationale in this case erases several clashing dynamics of class, immigration status, and gender that affect the communities most at risk of physical and sexual violence .
“In all honesty, it’s really difficult to attribute the cruel behavior to addiction, especially when you look at the demographics of a majority of those killed,” she said. “Race and gender play a role.”
“It is really unfair to take your word for it as there is an intersectionality with life, especially considering the suspect claims to have gone to these companies to remove the risk of temptation,” added Concepcion added.
The defense of sex addiction itself is very controversial as those in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and sex research continue to debate whether it should be officially recognized. Currently, the idea that sex addiction is a disorder is neither research backed nor accepted as a clinical diagnosis, she said.
Although the American Psychiatric Association included the concept of sexual addiction in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1987, it later withdrew the term and has since declined to add the idea to its later editions, including the widely used DSM-5 as definitive resource on mental disorders based on lack of evidence.
Alexander said that this sexual behavior does not affect the brain in the same way that other addictions, including substance use and gambling, characterize Long’s behavior as “worrying.”
Self-identification of sex addiction, she said, is commonly seen in individuals who grew up in conservative and religious settings “where their natural sexual drives and desires are highly morally deprecated”. Many of these populations are predominantly white.
“Many people who do these types of self-reports about sexual addiction have normative sexual behaviors and drives, but they might be exaggerated. Or for a lot of people, it’s a shame that “I have these attractions and emotional desires that are normal, but I don’t recognize them as normal,” Alexander said.
Still, sex addiction is a common defense invoked by white men in power. After a series of allegations surfaced by several women, including several minors, accusing comedian Chris D’Elia of soliciting sexual favors, he responded with a video in February: “Sex controlled my life.” He added: ” I’ve had a problem and I have a problem. “
Harvey Weinstein also claimed in a 2017 video that after numerous allegations of sexual harassment and rape, he was not doing well and needed help. In a statement to NBC News, his brother, Bob Weinstein, described him as “obviously a very sick man”.
For example, former Congressman Anthony Weiner collapsed in front of a judge in 2017 after being sentenced to 21 months in prison for sexting an underage girl. Weiner, who long described himself as a “very sick man,” set himself the goal of avoiding jail time after the judge confirmed that he had sought and received treatment for the behavior.
Controversy does not end with the diagnosis itself, however, and treatments have also been criticized for failing to adequately address the role of misogyny in sexual behavior. Ideas, including society’s hypersexualization of Asian women, have often not been explored.
“They often don’t talk about those hyper masculine attitudes or misogynistic messages that individuals receive, be it from pornography or society at large,” Alexander said. “Many of these so-called treatment programs often reinforce gender stereotypes. They talk about things like “women seduce you”, “women in pornography are trying to seduce you and so you have to avoid it” instead of talking about your own personal attitudes and behaviors that lead you to marginalize women. “
Such a classification of women as “seducers”, especially with regard to Asian women, partially shifts the responsibility from the perpetrator to the victim, said Concepcion. It plays into a stereotype of women as manipulative dragon ladies and fuels dangerous perceptions that make them uniquely vulnerable to violence. She explained that there is a tendency to attribute the causes of violence and murderous acts to the malicious intent of others, creating the perception that these victims, who were deliberately killed, provoked the perpetrator to violence.
“Recently there has been research into television shows and even years ago films depicting Asian women as seductresses that seem to prove these stereotypes of Asian women as fact,” she said.
Alexander said major toxic societal issues need to be unpacked in this context of treatment, in addition to other experiences that may have contributed to such behaviors.
“These are the things that need to be addressed as underlying issues in this set of things that may have led to sexual concern,” she said. “The sexual compulsions or worries are often linked to other types of underlying psychological problems, unmet emotional needs, childhood trauma, or again power and control dynamics that contribute to the oppression.”
However, experts stressed that even when people display attitudes that suggest oppression and marginalization of others, it does not often lead to mass violence. Contrary to the prevailing stereotypes, statistics show that around 3 to 5 percent of acts of violence can be traced back to people with severe mental illness. In reality, individuals facing mental health problems are more than ten times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.
For people dealing with sexual issues that may cause them troubles, experts recommend help and support that address the problem in a positive way. Shame-based treatments are never effective, Alexander said, and shame relief comes with comprehensive sex education. Sex is so often marginalized in culture, and it’s not uncommon for people to harbor difficult emotions about the subject and not sure how to deal with it, she said.
“Much of our sex education is based on shame and stigma that we don’t talk about normative sexuality and how to deal with it – that your urges may be natural,” she said.
With the resources available to help people with mental illness, Concepcion said it was never acceptable to calculate this violent behavior up to a “bad day.”
“Many of us have bad days and yet most of us focus on other forms of coping to help mitigate the effects of those days,” she said. “It is never justified to take life or commit acts of violence when we ourselves have had less than ideal days.”