A&E's 8 Minutes Accused Of Exploiting Sex Workers It Claimed To Be Helping

On the A&E reality series 8 Minutes, Pastor Kevin Brown, a former police officer turned clergyman, had eight minutes to pose as a client and convince female sex workers to "leave their dangerous situations behind to start over." From the moment the network released details about the show, there was a rallying cry against it. "Do NOT air the new series 8 Minutes... It is highly offensive and intrusive on the lives of sex workers," reads the plea on a Change.org petition. The Daily Beast referred to the show as "To Catch a Sex Worker." 

The show's executive producer, Tom Forman, elaborated on the concept to Entertainment Weekly  in January. "Sometimes, they turn and leave, but that’s the case when trying to save prostitutes," he said. In The New Republic, writer Alana Massey referred to Brown's ambush approach of "saving prostitutes" as "the height of arrogance."

Forman revealed a detailed plan for what would happen to the women who agreed to Brown's offer of help. "If she says yes, they’re sneaking her out the back of that hotel into a van and off to a safe house. If an angry pimp is coming to look for her, they want to make sure he can’t find her. They’re also getting her out of the city, if not out of the state. They’re putting her first in a rehab program if she needs one, and then a halfway house teaching her life skills, helping her get a job, and rebuilding her life. It’s a pretty big decision and a fairly intensive program if you choose to take him up on his offer."

On Monday, BuzzFeed published a story in which several women who had appeared on 8 Minutes alleged that the production team had lied to them. They said they never received the promised assistance, and when they tried to contact the producers for help, they didn't hear back. They also said they never received copies of the contracts they had signed, and the show did not obscure their faces on air.

BuzzFeed picked up the story from the blog Tits and Sass, which published a post called "Did 8 Minutes Lie to Sex Workers?" on April 27. "[O]ne woman, who goes by Kamylla, came forward on Twitter to hold the show’s producers accountable for promising her assistance in exchange for her appearance on the show, then leaving her twisting in the wind when she was arrested soon after, having returned to work from economic necessity when they didn’t provide the promised help in exiting the industry," the entry reads.

The episodes of 8 Minutes that had already aired can no longer be viewed on A&E's website. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the show was "officially gone from A&E's schedule." 

A spokesperson for A&E told Refinery29 today that the network is not officially commenting on the allegations, adding that 8 Minutes was pulled from the schedule due to low ratings before this story came out. 

The 8 Minutes website includes a resources page that lists various organizations that help sex workers and those victimized by human trafficking. A spokesperson from The Polaris Project, an organization listed on that page, had this to say: "We actually reached out to producers, told them we were opposed to the show’s methods, and asked them to clarify that the hotlines were not associated with the show. Polaris is opposed to efforts that sensationalize the experiences of human trafficking victims, including the A&E show 8 Minutes. We strongly urge the networks and media against vigilante-style interventionism in programming about human trafficking and commercial sex. When victims...want help, they need specialized, extensive, and long-term services to find new jobs, housing, and other care, all of which should be conducted confidentially and with dignity."

When reached, Relativity Television (the show's production company), told Refinery29 that it is not commenting on the matter. 

We have also reached out to Pastor Brown's Side-by-Side Church for comment. We will update this story as additional information becomes available. (BuzzFeed)
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