It took weeks of harsh criticism, low ratings and one extremely damaging Buzzfeed article, but the reality series “8 Minutes” is officially gone from A&E’s schedule.
The network confirmed that the “high stakes” show, which followed cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown as he coerced sex workers and victims of sex trafficking to leave the trade for a better life, will not air its remaining three episodes. Each week, Brown would pose as a client in a hotel room. Once the sex worker arrived, a camera crew appeared (as did a victim’s advocate) and Brown tried to persuade the woman to escape her situation and promised to help. The “eight minutes” is the maximum amount of time a woman can decide to leave with Brown’s team before her safety is in jeopardy.
The show pulled in few viewers. Then a disturbing story appeared Monday night on Buzzfeed, in which several women featured on the series alleged that after producers said they would provide professional help and privacy, the show didn’t deliver on either promise.
“This show, these people, it’s a disaster in my life,” a woman named Kamylla told the site. “I kept on calling them, and nothing happened.” She said that even though producers promised “medical, dental, housing and employment” help, she received $200 and then radio silence. Later, she said, when she was forced to turn back to sex work to make money, she was arrested on prostitution charges.
One woman, Gina, claimed that staffers gave her $400 and that she never heard from anyone again. Another said that her family found out about her job from the show and that she’s now living in a hotel.
A&E had no comment on the allegations, though a representative confirmed that “8 Minutes” has been pulled from the schedule. (Episodes were also taken off the show’s Web site.) When reached at his church in Orange County, Calif., Brown initially said he did not read the Buzzfeed article and then said all other questions should be directed to A&E. Executive producer Tom Forman, behind controversial series such as WE TV’s “Sex Box” and CBS’s “Kid Nation,” also had no comment.
The idea for the show originated when the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Brown, at the time the head of Safe Passage OC, a religion-based nonprofit organization to help former sex workers. On its Facebook page, Safe Passage said it is no longer affiliated with Brown, his church or “8 Minutes.”
“I love the intersection of drama and transformation and faith — without making an overtly faith-based show. This is a church group doing this, and I think that adds another layer,” Forman told Entertainment Weekly when the show was announced. “These are real people giving up weeks of their lives and putting themselves at real risk to save somebody who hasn’t asked for their help. I’m blown away by what they do, and we’re just trying to make them proud.”
Before it aired, the show’s premise earned significant criticism, along with a Change.org petition to cancel the series — many feared it would be harmful. In a letter to Forman, multiple anti-sex-trafficking organizations said that “while we appreciate your desire to give attention to some of the challenging circumstances of those in the sex trade, the tactics of Kevin Brown and ‘8 Minutes’ mislead the public and threaten the rights and safety of sex workers and survivors of human trafficking”:
The reasons why someone is involved in the sex trade are often rooted in many complex circumstances, including basic economic survival. Addressing these underlying causes for those who wish to leave the sex industry is often a long-term process that involves building strong networks of support, access to economic opportunity, and addressing many factors that make formal employment difficult, such as childcare and prior criminal records.
Non-consensual, filmed ‘eight-minute’ ‘interventions’ in the lives of those involved in the sex trade, including possible trafficking victims, are ineffective and potentially dangerous. While Mr. Brown may have experience as a vice cop and a pastor, by pretending to be a client interested in sex and surprising sex workers with a filmed intervention, he is not creating the trust and safety needed for individuals to make complicated life decisions.
In the New Republic, writer Alana Massey condemned the program, writing, “The belief that a strange man in a hotel room can make a more convincing case for quitting sex work than the endless social messages and legal statutes condemning workers is the height of arrogance.”
“But these nuances are not the sexy stuff of reality television, where good guys and bad guys and their helpless female charges must be neatly organized into morally respectable, one-dimensional roles,” she continued. “A&E knows that humiliation brings in a bigger audience than hope.”
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