A&E has come in for wave after wave of criticism from the adult industry, a number sex worker groups and thousands of individual voices as the premiere date of its new show 8 Minutes draw nearer.
The premise is rather unfortunate and indicative of the lack of respect mainstream companies hold sex workers in. As A&E proudly tell us, the reality show follows one Kevin Brown – a former cop and now evangelical pastor – as he arranges dates and meetings with various sex workers. Only, instead of perhaps offering viewers a look at the industry and to cast aside the myriad untruths and rumors that surround it, Brown will be seeking to ambush each worker with the chance of ‘salvation’ instead of honest payment for a day’s work.
Due to air for the first time on April 2nd, 8 Minutes has shocked many with its heartless concept and total lack of disregard for people’s integrity, pride and dignity. In short, it’s a total bust for the sex industry. Media reaction from the likes of Daily Dot, The Daily Beast and VICE – all allies of sex workers and the industry itself – has been one of disbelief and almost savage retorts to A&E’s disgusting plans.
The Daily Beast rendered the concept down to two key words: ‘Awful’ and ‘Exploitative’. VICE castigated Brown for his “numerous deceptions”. The LA Times covered a similar subject in October 2013, in which former cops pound the beats again trying to sweat away their own horror in the name of salvation. The subject of the story asserts early on that he has “no compassion” for sex workers and never has. These people aren’t out to help and protect… they’re here to impose their draconian and unfair order on the rest of the world.
It’s the implication that people need to be ‘saved’ simply for going into sex work that hurts a lot. We’re being told that sex work is the symbol of a broken person and a stuttering career. Notwithstanding all of the evidence that points to the contrary, of course. This implication is a “terrible falsehood”, according to Jerry Barnett of Sex & Censorship.
“Although coercion does undoubtedly exist at the fringes, the vast majority of sex workers are not coerced. By trying to brand all sex workers as victims, the “rescue industry” (as Laura Agustin calls it) is doing an immense injustice to sex workers, and silencing their voices.
“The show is aiding and abetting moralistic, slut-shaming attacks on sex workers under the guise of rescuing them. Perhaps they should shine more of a light onto the “rescuer” and question his narrative and motives.”
Whether or not the workers will feel at risk by this unwarranted intrusion is neither here nor there to the bigwigs at the broadcaster. “In my own experience, sex workers (including strippers and porn stars) who face these people find them infuriating rather than dangerous,” says Jerry. “They are labelled as victims without their consent, and if they try to speak up for themselves, told they have been “brainwashed by their oppressors” and so their opinions count for nothing.”
The response from those the program seeks to denigrate has mobilized. A strong, passionate and pleading letter was sent to one of the top dogs at A&E by a coalition of sex worker advocacy groups and individuals involved in the biz and even those who had suffered the pain and indignity of human trafficking. A petition was also started on Change.org. In the letter they ask for a simple meeting to air their grievances. While they are fully prepared to admit that sex work is a challenging and complicated business, they disagree with Brown’s strong-arm manipulation tactics. The letter then goes on to say:
We fear that this series also, for entertainment value, reinforces an image of sex workers and human trafficking victims as powerless and requiring the help of a vigilante male rescuer whose motives are not questioned. Mr. Brown is doing this despite the urgings of local law enforcement officials and without support from local service providers (despite there being several in the Orange County area), and remains unaccountable to any code of ethics. This series could encourage copycat initiatives, undertaken by individuals with no background or training, who are possibly well-meaning, or possibly have unexamined desires to interact with potential victims.
Sex work contains varied elements of risk by its very nature. Brown, A&E and all involved are more than prepared to throw more chum in the water to attract even hungrier sharks. Towards the end of 2014, a Latvian sex worker jumped to her death in England after her ex-boyfriend revealed to her family the line of work she had chosen to undertake. Whether the workers’ voices and faces are distorted or not, it will still provide key identifying clues. Brown and co. appear to be fine with this. A&E claim to be able to reach upwards of 96 million households across the US. After that, syndication, YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion and torrenting, it quickly becomes a question not of who HAS seen something, but who HASN’T.
Kitty De Vine, cam worker and BaDoink contributor, doesn’t hide her true feelings on the matter at hand.
“Of all the reality garbage that pollutes the screens, this has to be one of the most idiotic ideas, and I pray that it’s ditched before broadcast. It’s a patronizing load of nonsense that would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. They should not bring people onto a show without their consent. I don’t know if they will attempt to disguise identities or not, but even if they do, the risk of unwilling participants being identified is high. It’s increasing their potential exposure to public knowledge of their work, also risking legal issues, reputation, physical safety etc.
“It’s part of the save-a-ho movement that posits no sex worker could ever choose this kind of work. I have absolutely no doubt that many women are forced into sex work through trafficking or poverty. Those women should be protected and helped. But I am firmly in favor of legalizing consensual sex work for the safety and legal protection of women who CHOOSE to be involved in it.
“If they really want to help women escape sex work, there are far more productive ways. A TV show is not one of them. It’s an utterly inappropriate medium. I cannot decide whether this is more motivated by ratings or religion.Once again religion tries to ‘save’ and reform those they perceive as immoral.”
But try as we might thus far, A&E aren’t interested and when you’re dealing with somebody like Brown – given courage of conviction by a book and blinkers by God – it can be hard to let the cracks of light marked LOGIC seep in the dank, dark cellar that represents his brain. Although, Sex & Censorship do have one good idea…
“How about turning the tables and following a sex worker who bursts uninterrupted into the workplaces of moralistic anti-prostitution campaigners?” asks Jerry. You know what? He might just be onto something…