The moral scruples of most reality television shows are dubious, at best. Hidden cameras, unlimited booze, and a house full of 19-year-olds could be the premise for a barely legal basement porn site or a pitch for MTV's latest iteration of Jersey Shore. But the recently canceled A&E program 8 Minutes, a reality show about bleeding-heart-cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown and his mission to save Houston women from their lives in prostitution, sinks to a new low.
Pastor Kevin poses as a client and books sessions with sex workers. Instead of having sex with them and then placing them under arrest, as vice officers have been known to do, he stages an intervention and offers working girls a way out of what he calls “the life.” Underscored by dramatic music, the opening credits say, “With pimps lurking, all we've got … is eight minutes” to spend with these women before the crew's safety is compromised. The implied threat of a dangerous sex trafficker waiting in the wings is key to creating tension in episodes with titles such as “Gorilla Pimped.”
But soon after the April 2 premiere, the show was abruptly cancelled after sex workers who had appeared on the series began saying the 8 Minutes rescue operation is about as legitimate as anything else on reality television.
“Donna,” who appeared on the second episode, told BuzzFeed News that though she had done sex work in the past, she was not currently in “the life,” and the “pimp” looming in the background of some shots was, in fact, her husband, who was paid to pose as her trafficker.
All participants were paid an appearance fee, but the women who have come forward say that aside from that fee, they did not receive any assistance. The show promised these women resources to help them leave the sex industry, but those resources never came.
A woman named Kamylla, whose episode did not air before the show was canceled, says 8 Minutes producers gave her just $200 to tell her story on national television. She needed the money. Kamylla, a wife and mother living in poverty in Houston, and her husband had been looking for work for months with no luck, and they were on the verge of eviction.
Kamylla had recently begun offering fetish services to clients in secret, telling her family she was cleaning houses. But business was slow, as it often is in November, right before the holidays. So when 8 Minutes producers contacted her, she took the offer.
Like many, Kamylla entered the sex industry due to economic pressures; she wasn't forced by anyone or anything other than the aching bellies of her children. She was a perfect example of someone who actually was in desperate need of the resources Pastor Kevin was offering.
After filming wrapped, Kamylla was dramatically ushered into a rescue van, presumably en route to her new life. She was driven around the corner and dropped back off at the hotel, and producers assured her that she'd soon receive a phone call that would get her set up with all the promised resources — medical, dental, housing, professional development, the works. She didn't put up an ad, having just vowed on national television that she was leaving sex work for good.
But no one called, and Kamylla had no luck when she reached out. “I kept on calling them, and nothing happened,” she told BuzzFeed News earlier this month. Eventually, Kamylla gave up on 8 Minutes and felt she had no choice but to post another ad in order to pay the bills.
The very first appointment turned out to be an undercover cop, and Kamylla was arrested. Her family sold most of the furniture in their house in order to bail her out of jail. Sex worker activists have rallied around Kamylla and set up a crowdfunding campaign to help with her immediate needs — far more than Pastor Kevin ever did.
“It [is] the sex worker activist community and their allies who are helping,” Kamylla wrote recently on sexworkersolidarity.com.
The rescue industry is as much of a farce as reality television, but the combination of the two is truly morally bankrupt. 8 Minutes producers coerced and exploited economically disenfranchised sex workers in order to turn a profit. The show has been canceled, but these women are still looking for the resources they were promised.