ON THE AVENUES: Got spa? Time for CM Zurschmiede to reel in the years.

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ON THE AVENUES: Got spa? Time for CM Zurschmiede to reel in the years.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

This isn’t about politics. It’s about common human decency. 34 is the average age of death for women who work in the sex trade. The biggest cause of death? Murder. Time to stop looking the other way as a community and do something.
– Amanda Beam

Earlier this week in Amanda Beam’s newspaper column, she provided a clear and concise reminder about the toll of human trafficking in the context of the sex trade.

For years, I’ve heard rumblings about local “spas” and how the female workers are rarely seen entering or exiting the establishment. Rumors circle that the ladies provide sexual favors to their customers for the right price. Polaris, a nationwide organization dedicated to combating human trafficking, notes prostitution can occur in these establishments.

Do we know for certain that the females in these spas are victims of human trafficking? No. But given the ties between the sex trade and this offense, every suspected case must be investigated, which is not an easy task for law enforcement.

Even without the slavery component, the average age of death for those employed in the sex trade is 34 with homicide being their highest cause of death.

Yes, that’s the motif: “For years.”

One of these local spas is prominently located at the corner of Main and Pearl, in a building owned by councilman and mayoral candidate Kevin Zurschmiede. He has owned the building and been the spa’s landlord … yes, you guessed it.

For years.

Upon the publication of Amanda’s column and her subsequent posting on Facebook (later reprised at NAC), some portions of the New Albany body politic were seized with inexplicable Casablanca nostalgia. They were shocked to learn of such untidy matters, just shocked, and then they were angered, too.

After all, hadn’t Zurschmiede declared his candidacy for mayor only last week? Wasn’t the exposure politically motivated?

No.

As Tricky Dicky used to say, let’s make one thing perfectly clear.

This story wasn’t written for the very first time in February, 2015. Rather, the issue of whether or not “full service” activities have been offered by Zurschmiede’s spa tenant has been a topic of conversation for years, long predating his decision to seek the city’s highest office.

At NAC, the spa is mentioned as far back as early 2012. It flared at regular intervals, and the impending publication of Amanda’s newspaper column has been the worst kept “secret” in town. Seemingly everyone knows, save for Zurschmiede himself.

Then, as now, this is important primarily for the reasons Amanda so capably explained in her column, with an important corollary: Do reasonably informed adults have any excuse for not being familiar with the existence of human trafficking and sex slavery, whether in Sao Paulo, Shanghai or Silver Hills?

And, is Kevin Zurschmiede reasonably informed?

In a letter written last year to the Bored of Works in anticipation of impending complaints against the spa, the landlord Zurschmiede acknowledged an incident in which pornography on the spa’s television was visible from the public sidewalk, duly forwarding the spa’s apologetic explanation: Sorry, but a customer picked up the remote and switched to the explicit sex channel.

You know, the explicit sex channel that all downtown businesses select as part of their cable television packages.

Hey, who hasn’t walked past a café, gas station or accountancy firm and not seen accidental porn?

That clarity thing, again: Yes, we’ve been talking about this for years, and for years we’ve been trying to determine how Zurschmiede might possibly be unaware of the reputation of spas for illegal hijinks – and for years, the pieces simply have refused to fit together.

Now that Amanda has undertaken to pry reluctant eyes a bit further open, it seems shocking to some. Perhaps they should change the channel. As Amanda has noted, it isn’t about politics, but about human decency and doing something – and recognizing the problem is the first step.

Except that while the sex trade truly is a global scourge, Tip O’Neill’s fundamental adage still applies, and all politicking is local. As such, Zurschmiede’s years-long tone deafness about the spa is both breathtaking and relevant.

What, he had no idea? Spare me. A businessman and elected official in his fifties simply could not be that naïve. If he is, it doesn’t bode well when surveying his suitability for office – as a precinct committeeman, much less as mayor.

If he wasn’t being naïve, and actually had an inkling of what spas like this customarily represent … isn’t that far, far worse? New Albany is a daily public relations challenge, and now this.

Yonder stands a successful straight white male mayoral candidate of a certain age, eyes averted from messy human rights concerns, wondering why violence and riots and protests ever happen because, gee, can’t those lazy and felonious people just work harder and try to be like the rest of the successful straight white males of a certain age, even when they’re impoverished, gay, black, female or young?

I forgot one part: Eyes averted … and monthly rent check protruding from suit pocket.

Our topics are human trafficking, sex slavery, prostitution and spa shams, and I haven’t done enough, myself. Amanda’s column chastened me. It’s been happening a lot lately, but I know that sometimes that’s what it takes to grow and improve. By writing her column, Amanda has done more to bring light to a legitimate social problem than Zurschmiede, Jeff Gahan, David White and Roger Baylor, combined — and those are only the mayoral candidates.

But clearly Zurschmiede is the one who needs to answer for it, and soon. It’s his building, his dubious tenants and his profound mistake in thinking that it didn’t matter.

For years.

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