A&E’s new reality show 8 Minutes claims to “rescue” sex workers from their lives on the streets, but a Texas woman named Kamylla alleges that it actually pushed her and her family into eviction and poverty.
The show, which the Daily Dot covered in March, is based on the following premise: With exactly eight minutes on the clock, cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown confronts sex workers in a hotel room and pressures them to leave their jobs. Help and resources are offered to the women, but stories like Kamylla’s are beginning to surface and challenge the show’s narrative.
8 Minutes has been marketed as a ground-breaking television show that shines a light on the gritty lives of sex workers, and Brown himself has been touted as a savior figure. Entertainment Tonight played right into this message in a video about Brown, which states that “the men who traffic these women are dangerous” and that Brown offers intervention and rescue.
But Kamylla and other sex workers say there are no dangerous pimps in their lives. They’re just women trying to make enough money to support themselves and their families in a broken economy.
“These girls, they don’t need counseling. They need a job, a home, job training. They need to get settled. And no one helps them,” Kamylla (a pseudonym) told the Daily Dot in an exclusive first interview. “My motivation is to stop this crazy show, to make it not on anymore.”
The show conflates consensual sex work with non-consensual trafficking at every turn, not bothering to distinguish between women who are selling sex of their own volition, and those who are enslaved.
The Daily Dot reached out to A&E’s spokesperson, to Pastor Kevin Brown’s Side By Side church, and to the production company that produces 8 Minutes, Relativity Media. None of the people associated with the show have responded to requests for comment.
It should be noted, though, that lead show producer Tom Forman’s earlier claims to fame include Intervention, Catfish, and the reality show Gigolos (which, notably, applauds male prostitutes who “hang out, have fun, and get girls,” rather than attempting to rescue them).
“One of the things they promised was to give me a job. You understand, there’s no job,” said Kamylla. “I have a note of eviction. This is brutal and cowardly to have a TV show coming over to promise you a job, to tell you they are going to settle this for you, and now none of this happens.”
“This is brutal and cowardly to have a TV show coming over to promise you a job, to tell you they are going to settle this for you, and now none of this happens.”
Kamylla said she met the producers for 8 Minutes when they responded to an escorting ad she’d placed during a financial crisis earlier this year. The producers explained everything to her advance. She was told to pretend like she didn’t know the setup, and to approach Brown in a hotel room as if he was a customer. She was also told to act surprised when he offered her help getting out of the business.
But Kamylla said she desperately did want help and wanted out of the sex trade. She said the 8 Minutes team told her there would be money, jobs, and even medical and dental insurance for her and her kids. But as soon as the scene was shot, she claimed she was dropped off on the street. Later, she was given some phone numbers for local churches and nonprofits.
“The next day I was at home waiting for their call. And a girl I know who I worked with asked, ‘You’re not going to work anymore?’ And I said no,” said Kamylla, explaining that the show’s team convinced her not to place another escorting ad. “For the entire week after the interview, I waited for them. I checked with the producer and she said, ‘Don’t worry, they will contact you.’”
Kamylla hadn’t worked in weeks. Soon, she found an eviction notice on the door of the home she shared with her husband and children. That’s when, she says, she felt like she had no choice but to give up on 8 Minutes’ promises of rescuing her from the streets. So she placed another sex work ad. Almost immediately after going back to hustling, she says, she was arrested.
Now, Kamylla is vehemently speaking out against 8 Minutes on Twitter. Although A&E’s prostitution rescue show allegedly screwed her over, Kamylla found support and assistance from an unexpected source: her fellow sex workers.
Sex workers on Twitter are currently rallying around Kamylla and two other women who have since come forward to say they were also victimized by Pastor Kevin Brown and his show. Supporters have contributed to fundraisers on GoFundMe and Tilt in an effort to save Kamylla’s family from eviction and cover the cost of her legal expenses.
Two sex worker advocates, Tara Burns and Domina Elle, are leading the charge to support what they call “victims of the rescue industry.” They created a website to tell the story of the women reportedly victimized by 8 Minutes. Shortly after launching the website, two other sex workers got in touch to say they had also been exploited by the show’s producers (those women currently wish to remain anonymous). Elle said that the show is just the latest example of a widespread, destructive trend in the sex work “rescue” industry.
“The 8 Minutes show is a ruse, but it’s an allegory for the entire rescue industry,” Elle said. “There’s only talk about helping, but the reality is there’s no help. The same thing is happening across the nation with so many of the faith-based nonprofits.”
The anti-trafficking rescue industry is indeed massive. In an April report for Truthout, Anne Elizabeth Moore wrote that $30 million had been granted to U.S.-based nonprofits and other efforts to combat sex trafficking in fiscal year 2012 by the Department of State alone.
Moore found that the overwhelming majority of anti-trafficking efforts were led by white males who focused on partnering with law enforcement. They did little to help sex workers and trafficking survivors with “post-rescue needs” like housing, job training, and ongoing childcare. Moore called it, aptly, the “Anti-Trafficking Paramilitary.”
The overwhelming majority of anti-trafficking efforts were led by white males. They did little to help sex workers and trafficking survivors with “post-rescue needs” like housing, job training, and ongoing childcare.
Tara Burns, who wrote about her own experiences surviving both child sex trafficking and horribly botched attempts at rescuing her, told the Daily Dot that it’s common for sex workers to be harmed by misguided rescue efforts—and just as common for other sex workers to come to their aid.
“A couple years ago there was a woman here in Alaska who was a trafficking victim and ended up going to jail for conspiracy to traffic herself. When she got out of jail the sex work community came around to support her,” Burns said.
“This kind of thing happens all the time, it’s just not normally on the Internet. We have to pick up [the rescue industry’s] mess and help their victims. And we have to fund that with sex work. It’s this double whammy, where they’re telling us they’re rescuing us but then we have to do sex work to help, house, and support the women they leave behind.”
Burns and Elle have helped raise more than $2,000 for Kamylla on a now-closed GoFundMe page. They’ve also launched a second fundraiser on Tilt. Other sex workers and advocates are also spreading awareness of the issues by angrily tweeting about the show.
— elfeministo (@elfeministo) April 23, 2015
Lying to a woman to get her to come to your hotel room + secretly recording her + standing guard by the door = manipulation. #8minutes
— Eric Sprankle, PsyD (@DrSprankle) April 17, 2015
A Change.org petition asking A&E to cancel 8 Minutes has garnered nearly 2,500 signatures. The petition also calls for viewers to pressure sponsors like General Motors, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, and SC Johnson to drop the show.
Will A&E ever respond to public pressure and cancel 8 Minutes? Probably not. It’s likely that from the network’s perspective, 8 Minutes is just one of a series of exploitative reality shows in its lineup.
But if there’s one thing that we can learn from the fallout over 8 Minutes, it’s that sex workers have each others’ backs. Kamylla recalled her horror when the show’s producers asked her to send them more sex workers, a request that she refused.
“Someone from the show asked me a month later how I was doing, and if I could refer someone else. I am not an escort agency,” she said. “I am just a lady trying to survive.”
Photo via Blemished Paradise/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)